I always felt like Jennifer Hudson never really had a hit single that matched the vocal ferocity of her performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” in Dreamgirls. But with the release of her third studio album, JHUD, the Dreamgirl finally has some material worthy of her. Maybe it’s the free-bird Donna Summer-channeling vibe she brings to the project. Maybe it’s the “I Got This” diva swag oozing from each track. Or maybe, it’s the funky fresh haircut she’s rocking these days (the girl is a stunner!). Whatever it is, Jennifer sounds liberated, comfortable, risky, and retro all at the same time on JHUD. And we like.
JHUD starts us off with “Dangerous,” a mid-tempo track that features her lisp reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s verbal emphasis (maybe that’s why it’s Dangerous). Visual lyrics about driving a motorbike without hands and running from the cops add to the feel of Jennifer launching into uncharted territory. All this cut needs is a faster tempo to take it over the top.
The Pharrell-produced “I Can’t Describe (The Way I Feel)” is pure 1970’s disco gold, making you feel like you’re at a roller rink skating. T.I. is all class on the rap.
Speaking of the 70’s, another R&B legend, R. Kelly, joins Jennifer on “It’s Your World”. Soon as this track played, I saw silver disco balls and Soul Train. Sounded like Sly and the Family Stone were on background. Straight psychedelic funk. Best part? Jennifer’s looooong trills. She outdoes Kels.
The Timbaland-produced “Walk It Out” immediately starts with a brag about Tim, “You must have the right producer with the know-how of putting tracks together.” Jhud’s swank takes over (thank you!) as the chorus jumpstarts us into her strong higher range. The most interesting thing about the verses is the lingering verbiage and laconic attitude. Very swag. Jen even sounds like she’s rapping sometimes.
“Walk It Out” – Jennifer Hudson
“Bring Back The Music” could ditch all that talking in the beginning, but afterward it pulls you right in with some serious nostalgia. Jennifer’s voice is flawless. The instrumental arrangement gives the track a timeless feel, as if the song could easily be playing at the forefront of a Civil Rights picket line, or on a record in your grandpa’s living room as he slow dances with grandma. Highlight.
The swanky high-tempo “Say It,” lets us hear Jen growling, gritting and belting across the track. This is what we were waiting for. And these days, it seems an album ain’t an album without an Iggy Azalea appearance. The femcee drops it over computerized soul-funk on “He Ain’t Going Nowhere.”
Finally, there is “Moan”. When I heard the title, I thought we were going straight to the bedroom, but Jennifer surprises instead, taking us straight to church – her origins. She “moans” in memory of losing her mother. Like a “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” this gospel-tinged number takes us to the heart of who Jennifer is, and her pain at tragically losing her family. Beautiful.
Now, despite JHUD’s beautiful voice, strong lyrics, retro rhythms, and lush melodies, I still wanted her to push even more. I LOVE the new direction she’s taking, but a few more belts wouldn’t hurt. With that said, the diva’s vocals still make other R&B acts look like child’s play.
On this short, fun, frisky roller derby of an album, Jennifer exposes us to her inner flower child and risks venturing into edgier territory. Kudos for taking control of her new sound. JHUD is throwback edge with a diva’s touch. Makes you dance, makes you throw up your feet, and allows you to enjoy the blessing of Jennifer Hudson’s unmatched voice.