On her debut album, Your Woman, Sunshine Anderson throws a curveball. With her urban-hippie name and her much-publicized professional and personal relationship with nu-soul space cadet Macy Gray, you’d think that her first disc would emit the dashiki-draped, Afro-sheened funk of a Jill Scott or an Erykah Badu. And even though her salty hit single, “Heard It All Before,” is less poetic and more pointed than the evocative musings of Gray, Scott, or Badu, that sleazy wah-wah guitar scratching against her raw, neck-swerving verses exudes a ’70s bell-bottomed stank that Destiny’s Child could never pull off. Which means that “Heard It All Before” must be the most conventional song on the album, right? The rest being funkier, nappier, squishier—more real?

Wrong. Your Woman is disappointingly straight. It has enough well-produced songs to fill any cookie-cutter urban-radio playlist, and Anderson’s gritty alto will make you dismiss lesser songbirds such as Mya and Pink with just one gospelized melisma. But the tiresome you-done-me-wrong proclamations and do-it-to-me-good yearns are so mundane and interchangeable that they’ll certainly get lost in the mainstream R&B shuffle.

Which is not to say that the other nu-soul crooners are all paving fresh thematic territory. Despite the Mother Africa talk, groovy outfits, and left-of-center vibes, a significant portion of the material on Gray, Scott, and Badu’s albums deals with either fucking or being fucked over, as well. The trick—the art, really—to crafting good R&B is macking with a new game, detailing drama from a new angle, conceiving a new story. None of which happens on Your Woman. Instead of reminding you of a love lost, Anderson’s songs remind you of 20 other songs that sound exactly the same.

What Your Woman lacks in originality, though, Anderson’s glorious delivery often makes up for in conviction. When she sings the vengeful warning “Have me ’bout to call my peeps and take it to the streets” about her lover’s betrayal on the ghetto-centric “Heard It All Before,” you immediately envision her lips tightly pursed between verses, her head jerking to the concussive beat and razor-sharp guitar riffs. When she poses the question “What were you thinking bringing her into our home/In our bed you must’ve fell and bumped your head/Messin’ up my sheets and violating me,” you imagine her nails extended in battle position. Interestingly enough, she tries to seduce exactly the same kind of loser on the bare-boned “Lunch or Dinner,” opening with “I can tell you’re used to dealing with/Chickenheads who have no kind of class” and later begging with horny intensity, “Since I’m who you want/And need in your life/Then we should do lunch/Or dinner sometime.” With each trite verse, each played-out scenario, each ho-hum melody, Anderson’s voice glimmers amidst a haze of musical mediocrity.

Even on the comparatively risky booty-call burner “Last Night”—where Anderson sings with not one but two male singers, creating a confusing aural ménage à trois with pedestrian lyrics that fail to support the freaky idea—Anderson’s throaty, hot-blooded voice fills the tired ballad with emotional poignancy, while slithering between Anthony Hamilton and Dolo Pichino’s orgasmic wails and testifying shouts.

Then again, when Anderson does get around to creating lyrics about something other than trying to be someone’s woman, the results are both jarring and totally unconvincing. The album’s 18 tracks are bookended by the self-referential, self-help anthem “A Little Sunshine.” Although the humdrum verses— “Everybody needs a little sunshine, in your life/Sometime, to brighten up your day”—don’t reveal any songwriting brilliance, they are far more bearable than the corny one-minute “Spoken Word [Skit],” in which Anderson gets galactic with laughable references to electromagnetic gradients of light, trees, and flowers all in an electronically treated Bahamadia cadence. After one listen to that utterly pretentious, unabashedly vapid prose, you yearn for yet another one of those yawn-inducing love songs.

Ultimately, Anderson’s singing can’t overcome the threefold setback of bad songwriting, boring themes, and Mike City’s sterile production. And although the organic hiphop production values of albums such as Badu’s Mama’s Gun or Scott’s Who Is Jill Scott? are becoming fairly commonplace, Anderson could use a little more of this “realness” in her work. Her robust voice definitely deserves better sonic surroundings than the clipped digital beats, overly processed background choruses, and pro-tool patchwork of these songs.

Thanks to her fervid wails, Your Woman is a solid, but not sensational, debut that will undoubtedly attain some commercial success thanks to endless spins on urban radio and eye-candy videos. As for singular imagination, however, Your Woman contains all-too-familiar themes and sounds all-too-canned, making lead and best single “Heard It All Before” an unintentional double-entendre. CP

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