Keyshia Cole | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

There's nothing especially innovative about Keyshia Cole's debut, The Way It Is (A&M)--Mary J. Blige is its obvious inspiration--but that doesn't stop it from being one of my favorite R & B albums of the year. At just 21 the Oakland native has a solid grip on her protean voice, favoring an almost conversational middle range bolstered by a strong hip-hop rhythmic sensibility, particularly on the bumping romantic kiss-off "Guess What." When she unleashes a full-bore wail, as on "(I Just Want It) to Be Over," it soars gracefully, without a trace of stridency. She had a hand in writing most of the songs, including the hit "I Changed My Mind," a Kanye West production featuring staccato hand claps and an infectious stop-start groove. But one of the most interesting tunes is one she didn't write. On "I Should Have Cheated," she vents her frustration with her lover, who deflects questions about his absences with false accusations of his own, but the song's more subtle than the title suggests; she's not wishing she'd cheated, but that the relationship had worked in the first place. Musiq headlines. Mon 10/17, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $30 in advance, $32.50 at the door, 18+.

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