To say the last few years in Jennifer Hudson’s life have been a whirlwind would be an understatement.

Since coming to prominence during the third season of “American Idol”, Hudson won an Academy Award, released her first album, won a Grammy Award, saw two hit singles spin off from the album (which sold over 3/4 of a million records), was crushed by the shocking murders of her mother, brother and nephew, got married (to a fellow reality show contestant), had a baby and lost a shit-ton of weight. With all of that in her rear-view mirror, one would expect the singer’s second album, I Remember Me, to be a heavy affair. To be fair, parts of it are. But ultimately, the heaviest thing about I Remember Me is Hudson’s voice, an instrument that seems even bigger and brassier than on her debut.

When working with famed record mogul Clive Davis, it’s very likely that he will surround you with a sea of today’s hottest songwriters and producers. It’s a gambit that he’s repeated for divas for over thirty years. Sometimes he’s been successful (Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Monica, Whitney Houston), sometimes he’s missed the mark-at least commercially speaking (Jennifer Holiday, Angela Bofill, Olivia, Deborah Cox). In that regard, I Remember Me is a mixed bag. Thankfully, Davis doesn’t go over the top with uber-trendy production. J-Hud don’t need no stinking auto-tune, nor does she need trendy dance beats. While the lack of current production tricks might hurt Hudson’s chances to get a song on Top 40 radio, it gives the album a maturity and that’s missing from much modern music these days, and the album finds itself in a similar pocket as recent releases by Monica and fellow “Idol” alum Fantasia.

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While there aren’t a lot of “A” list names on I Remember Me‘s back cover, they can be found all over the liner notes, writing and producing. Alicia Keys and her hubby Swizz Beatz are the MVPs of this album, writing and producing three tracks that have a retro dance vibe-a good call since Hudson’s voice recalls big-voiced dance divas like Cheryl Lynn and Evelyn “Champagne” King. “Angel”, “Everybody Needs Love” and “Don’t Look Down” have an agreeable bounce without taking Jennifer all the way out of her lane. They’re also a welcome respite from the glut of ballads that populate much of the album. Of those, R. Kelly’s “Where You At” is the Alpha Dog, followed by Ne-Yo’s “Why is it So Hard”.

Qualitatively, I Remember Me would be on par with her solid debut album…if the last three songs didn’t practically hurtle it off a cliff. Two well-sung but incredibly maudlin ballads (the Diane Warren-penned “Still Here” and the churchy country remake “Believe”) sandwich a completely unnecessary cover of “Feeling Good”, a song that’s been completely ruined due to at least one “American Idol” contestant covering it each season. While it’s obvious that the songs are meant to be a statement of purpose for Jennifer, and she sings the living shit out of all of them, I find them all to be unnecessarily melodramatic and ultimately skip-worthy.

While there’s not really anything on I Remember Me that delivers a knockout punch, it’s still a solid album. The fact that Jennifer is an “A” list singer kicks things up a notch, but the material is a little too inconsistent for me (a problem Jennifer will have as long as she’s under Davis’s watch.) While she’s certainly capable of singing anything, I Remember Me is proof that maybe she shouldn’t…and maybe she should call up Keys and Swizzy for a full-length album collaboration.

Grade: B-


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