Given Faith Evans
' somewhat spotty track record and Puff Daddy
's slippage since his name change, it might have made some sense to greet Evans
' third album, Faithfully
, with a bit of skepticism. As it turns out, such doubts were unwarranted, since this is her grittiest, funkiest, best record to date. There are so many collaborators on each track and so many producers -- usually around five songwriters for each track (but if a song is sampled, as many as 14 writers are credited) -- that it seems a minor miracle that it holds together at all, but Faithfully
gels better than any previous Faith Evans
record, in large part because so much of it is devoted to hard-edged, funky dance numbers, whether it's hip-hop-influenced cuts like "Alone in This World" or the wonderful neo-disco "Back to Love." This switch from her previous album, which emphasized ballads and mid-tempo grooves, gives the album more character, since the dance numbers mix well with the sultrier numbers and they both work equally well. If the album is hurt by anything, it's its length -- like most modern hip-hop-related albums, it runs too long -- but it is rich with vibrant songs, lively production, and Evans
' best singing to date on what ultimately is not just her best album, but another excellent female urban R&B album in a year overflowing with them.