To paraphrase a colleague whose head just landed on the chopping block of yet another label merger: Soon there’s going to be only one major record label. The recent stranglehold of merges, acquisitions, absorptions, and buy-outs that has plagued an increasingly bottom-line-oriented industry is inspiring a new indie front not unlike the early ‘90s resurgence of independent filmmaking. The latest example of this trend is Raphael Saadiq’s Pookie Entertainment, which purports to be “an independent recording haven” for “artists with transcendent creative sensibilities.” While Dr. Dre protégé Shari Watson (a.k.a. Truth Hurts a.k.a. Truth) might not fit that description to a T (her hit “Addictive” lived up to its name but wasn’t exactly “transcendent”), the singer’s sophomore effort, the aptly-titled Ready Now, is a decided departure from 2002’s Truthfully Speaking. Truth, Saadiq and Co. have opted for neo-soul over high-tech hip-hop while retaining a forward-thinking sound, concocting songs like the sultry title track, a futuristic ballad that is more “Midnight Love” than “106 & Park,” and “Catch 22,” which features a robust arrangement of strings, slide guitar, and organ that is nearly—but not quite—sunk by a dirgy beat that could capsize the Queen Mary 2. At 10 tracks, there isn’t any room on the album for filler or pointless interludes, and by limiting themselves to such an economical tracklisting, Truth and executive producer Saadiq were forced to pick the best of the lot, a lesson almost every other R&B and hip-hop act out there should learn from. That’s not to say Ready Now isn’t a mainstream record or that it doesn’t champion the latest trends: The opening track, “Knock Knock,” and the playful, Middle Eastern-flavored “Phone Sex” evoke both Saadiq’s own Lucy Pearl and Missy Elliott, and Truth’s lyrics are pretty run-of-the-mill. But regardless of whether she’s recording for Dre’s Aftermath or an indie like Pookie, Truth oozes personality, and the racy, sexy, and mature Ready Now almost completely fills the promise of her debut.
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