Lyfe Jennings 

I Still Believe

Looks like Lyfe Jennings' six-year recording career will be shorter than the full decade he spent in the slammer for arson in his twenties. The now-37-year-old soul singer claims I Still Believe is his "final" album, and if he sticks to his word, he will have left behind a most impressive, highly provocative swan song.

Noted for his socially conscious lyrics, the Toledo-born balladeer turns to sexual politics on the disc's controversial lead track, "Statistics," advising women on how to avoid hooking up with losers. Twenty-five percent of all men are unstable/twenty-five percent of all men can't be faithful/thirty percent of them don't mean what they say/and ten percent of the remaining twenty is gay, he croons in sweet, if somewhat nasal high-tenor tones, his sustains rife with rapidly fluttering vibratos. According to his math, their chances of finding the right man seem quite limited.

Jennings moves on to the spiritual with the title tune and "It Coulda Been Worse," and to the personal with "Mama," an emotive duet with grit-voiced Anthony Hamilton that uses an actual rhythm section. Drum machine programming by a rotating cast of producers on other tracks is too often stilted. Thankfully, Jennings goes it alone for "If Tomorrow Never Comes," with just his own piano chords supporting a soaring multi-octave plea forgiveness that is surely the most impassioned performance of his days as a recording artist. (Jesus Swings/Warner Bros.)

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