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MUSIC REVIEW

Cole channels the fury of a woman wronged

Oakland-based singer brings her feisty demeanor to a set at the House of Blues.

September 04, 2007|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

"Can't y'all help me sing this one?" Keyshia Cole wondered aloud Sunday at the House of Blues during her performance of "Love." "I asked you nicely."

Asking nicely isn't really Cole's style: On "The Way It Is," her platinum-selling debut from 2005, Oakland-based Cole channeled the fury and recrimination of the wronged woman unable to tolerate being abused for one second more. Like her predecessor Mary J. Blige, Cole imagines R&B as music for the battlefield, not the boudoir, which means her language tends to take the imperative form. "No, you listen to me now!" she ordered one fellow, nailing the vocabulary of domestic drama.

This show came a few weeks before the release of Cole's highly anticipated sophomore CD, "Just Like You," whose title seems to promise another batch of anthems dedicated to women with grievances. But Cole sang only a couple of tracks from the new album, including "Let It Go," the '80s-tinged lead single. She knew that her fans came to make their private pain public, and that required familiar material. Fortunately, "The Way It Is" contains plenty of gems.

Cole opened with "(I Just Want It) to Be Over," and it was obvious right away that she was in a typically feisty mood: While her six-piece band transformed her album's plush R&B productions into hard-angled soul-rock rave-ups, Cole emphasized the grain in her voice, pushing it to raw emotional extremes that sometimes required a sacrifice in pitch. One back-up singer sported a faux-hawk, and the haircut seemed appropriate given the music's unvarnished punkiness.

Cole didn't slow down for a breather until "You've Changed," which she sang while sitting on a stool. Well, half-sitting: Cole kept standing to punctuate lyrics with bits of body language.

The hourlong concert's highlight might have been "Last Night," Cole's hit collaboration with Diddy. Over the song's appealingly down-and-dirty beat, Cole described being "all cried out." Then the lyrics gave way to a string of "baby baby baby" exhortations that discovered untapped profundity in that most shopworn of pop phrases.

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