Tweet Makes A Soulful Return On ‘Charlene’
Charlene is a favorable LP by Tweet following an extended hiatus.
Where in the world has Tweet been? – “That is the question!” Charlene marks only the neo-soul standout’s third studio album in a career nearing the 20-year mark. Regardless, it’s great to see Tweet back, this time opting for the independent route that has been embraced by numerous formerly high-profile R&B stars. All in all, Charlene sounds much like Tweet’s last album, 2005’s It’s Me Again, which was drenched in poised throwback soul and lacked a pop hit. (SIDE NOTE: We haven’t forgotten about Tweet’s 2013 EP, even if Simply Tweet was released ‘on the low’).
Following a foreshadowing intro drenched in lush backing vocals, cooing lead vocals, and chill guitar, the “Magic” begins – literally. Low-key with Tweet never over-singing – or under-singing for that matter – she delivers a cool, calm, and collected vocal performance. This isn’t the second coming – it won’t be the catalyst for a neo-soul renaissance – but you’d never know Tweet has been out of the picture for a long as she has, listening to smooth, conservatively produced opener.
“Won’t Hurt Me”
“Won’t Hurt Me” has a bit more oomph compared to “Magic” but once more neither Tweet nor the production itself forces things. “Won’t Hurt Me” should remind the listener of an Al Green song sans the elaborate Memphis horns and elaborate production. Sure, a few more instruments and a dash more ‘killer instinct’ wouldn’t have hurt, but this is quality, contemporary soul. Follow-up “Priceless” sounds more urgent, with fuller production and more grit from Tweet. No, she doesn’t throw gospel histrionics at us, but she owns the performance.
Following an indulgent interlude, “Somebody Else Will” definitely sounds like the best-produced song from Charlene. Interestingly, just the sheer use of sampling here buffs up the sound and adds an assuredness. Like the cuts preceding, the chill guitar and ambrosial piano remain in play, working superbly in tandem with the sample.
“Addicted” revisits the subtle production approaches of Charlene, while continuing to establish a soulful identity and being anchored by no frills, but effective groove. While it’s sound, arguably, Tweet overindulges – one too many vocal coos, too many background vocals, etc. “Neva Shoulda Left Ya” incorporates a taste of tropical influence, coupled with the tried and true throwback soul script. Like most of Charlene, the results are solid not radically transformative musically speaking.
“The Hardest Thing”
“The Hardest Thing” eliminates some predictability that plagues Charlene. Yes, the script is familiar, but the development of the track, specifically the groove and rich piano is alluring. Give Tweet and company credit for “Got Whatcha Want” – that organ in the background though! That said the production sounds on the cheap side… Yes, this is an indie R&B record, but “Got Whatcha Want” would be that much stronger with bolder, brighter patches and fine-tuned mixing.
“I Didn’t Know” is sort of like a peppermint that melts in your mouth…after the taste is gone, it’s gone. That’s not meant insulting, but as “sweet” as “I Didn’t Know” is, it’s not a song that will stand the test of time. While “Dadada…Struggle” is arguably more soundscape than a substantive song, it’s a riveting record. Charlene closes with the uplifting “I Was Created For This” and “Outro: I Surrender.” Best Buy editions of Charlene add two bonus cuts: “Somewhere Out There” and “Fool No Mo.”
So, what’s the verdict on Charlene? It’s a favorable album in which Tweet sounds terrific. It won’t blow anyone away, but should definitely appeal to Tweet fans and those who enjoy their R&B on the traditional side. Yeah, this is a “no new friends” or better yet “no new fans” type of affair, but there’s no reason to be mad at Charlene “Tweet” Keys – were’ glad to have her back in the game!
Gems: “Magic,” “Won’t Hurt Me,” “Priceless,” “Somebody Else Will” & “The Hardest Thing”