We’re not an “American Idol” fan, but if all it ever did was introduce us to Jennifer Hudson (even though she was voted off in the seventh round), then it’s all been worth it.
Hudson, whose second album, "I Remember Me" is out today, has one of the best voices to come around in years. Some folks compare her to Aretha. No one matches the queen of soul in our book. For us, she’s more like Chaka Khan: her voice has a fluidity and vulnerability, but also a strength and heft.
First single, “Where You At,” written and produced by R. Kelly showcases all those abilities as we can almost feel her pain as she stands there in the freezing cold for someone who never shows, yet we know her indominable spirit will see her through. Unlike other divas, Hudson never resorts to cheap vocal tricks because she doesn’t need to.
The terrain here is a familiar one for R&B divas: tunes about heartbreak and love interspersed with inspirational songs about faith. It’s like going through the worst heartbreak and getting taken to church at the same time. On “I Got This,” Hudson knows that her troubles and worries will be taken care of by a higher power.
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There’s not enough variation here, despite the multitude of producers and songwriters, including Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Rich Harrison, Ne-Yo, Stargate and Salaam Remi. Perhaps that’s because the majority of tunes are mid-tempo ballads with the drums way up in the mix as if we were in the middle of a Genesis or Phil Collins record, circa 1986. Just try to listen to the opening of Where You At” without thinking about Collins’ “Take Me Home.” Don’t tell me you don’t remember.
“I Remember Me” could have used a few more upbeat thumpers like “Everybody Needs Love,” a romp produced by Keys and her hubby Swizz Beatz that is sure to go to No. 1 on the club play charts with some tasty remixes, as well as “Don’t Look Down,” which has a great, feisty Chaka Khan-crossed-with-Patrice-Rushen vibe.
The album includes “Feeling Good,” which for a generation will now be known as Hudson’s Weight Watchers theme. The song is actually from the 1965 musical, “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.” It’s nice to hear more than the intro that we hear on the ubiquitous commercials.
“I Remember Me” ends with “Believe,” a beautiful tune first performed by Brooks & Dunn, which she performed at a tribute to them last Spring. She turns it into a full-on gospel number drenched in organs and a choir. That’s what great singers do: they take songs that we may know in a different form or incarnation and totally turn them into their own creations. This is only Hudson’s second album, but we have a feeling the Oscar winner is going to be a force to be reckoned with for decades to come based on what she’s showing us on this album. In fact, we're going to go ahead and declare her a future EGOT--meaning winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. She's already half-way there.