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Album review: Jennifer Hudson's 'I Remember Me'

March 21, 2011 |  9:14 pm

Jenniferhudson In the seven years since her “American Idol” launch, Jennifer Hudson has been such a visible part of the pop culture landscape, it’s hard to believe that “I Remember Me” is only the Chicago singer’s second album. The spotlight has shone on her for extra-musical reasons both honorific (her Oscar in 2007 for “Dreamgirls”) and horrific (the 2008 murder of her mother, brother and nephew). When she sings “I’ve been through some things” — honey, we know. Those things have made her old self a “memory” to her new self, as she writes in the title track. The change has manifested physically; the Weight Watchers spokeswoman has lost 80 pounds. Unfortunately, the 12 new songs don’t capture such a radical transformation.

On screen and in life, Hudson’s story has been that of the underdog. More than ever, we want to cheer her on. Declaring “I Got This,” she doesn’t ask for our pity — which makes us love her even more. Her “Feeling Good” (a song made famous by Nina Simone) makes us feel good.

Hudson has a big, warm, church-trained R&B diva voice, a sure instrument for belting the blues and affirming the spirit. But that voice has never seemed comfortable among the bright shiny toys of a pop studio — like an old hardwood cutting board in a stainless steel kitchen. As on her 2008 debut, she tries on a variety of guises — pop, disco, soul — and collaborators (this time, there’s Alicia Keys and R. Kelly). Again, she works with Ne-Yo and Diane Warren and closes with a gospel tune. But as much as we want it, she never quite delivers that reason to believe.

—Evelyn McDonnell

Jennifer Hudson
“I Remember Me”
Arista
Two and a half stars

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