Being a Canadian gives me the ability to keep tabs on homegrown artists more than the neighbouring fans from the south. Given this pleasure, an act like Deborah Cox is highly unlikely to be slept on for long. Radios all over the country were already blasting her addictive single, “Beautiful U R,” from her latest album, The Promise, giving listeners on both sides of the boarder a taste of a new and improved Deborah. Four years removed from her platinum album, One Wish, which contained her huge hit, “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here,” Cox makes her comeback to R&B (she put out a Jazz album last year), and it’s a strong one. However, there is plenty of visible rust that she needs to dust off.
For an R&B album, there isn’t much new going on but cliché after cliché. The skill to mastering the craft of songwriting in R&B is how the cliché’s are said; a skill Deborah masters on songs like “Did you Ever Love Me” or the title track, “The Promise.” The former is a reflection on the hardships of a past relationship, while the latter is a complete 180 as it moves from heartache to heart-strength.
The beauty of the album is behind the scenes, as opposed to on the microphone. Legendary production duo Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam handle a bulk of the production along with their partner James “Big Jim” Wright. The multi-talented Devo Springsteen handles the rest. The diversity of beats range from the rather out of place club bangers, “Down 4 U” and the aforementioned single, to the sultry and fulfilling production on “All Hearts Aren’t Shaped the Same.” Deborah can’t help but benefit from this beat lineup; however, her falter lies in how much she limits her voice. In the past, this girl has belted out some soulful ballads, but here, she recognizably holds back.
Still showing signs of brilliance in her lyrics, melodies, vocal strength, and beat selection, no one should be in fear of Deborah “falling off.” In fact, this is an extremely impressive return to a genre that had a spectacular year; the bar was set that much higher. If there is one singer who shouldn’t hold back from her range, it’s Mrs. Cox, and a stronger focus on song placement and on “how much” should be on an album would’ve put The Promise in the elite class of R&B in 2008.
– Sean Deezill