I Remember Me
When 29-year-old R&B diva Jennifer Hudson begins the first song of her sophomore album with the line, "I've been through some things," you'd better believe that confession is an exercise in understatement.
Hudson burst onto the scene during the third season of American Idol in 2004. Though the show's voters weren't terribly taken with her powerful, gospel-tinged alto (she finished in seventh place), Hudson has since become one of Idol's runaway success stories, winning both an Oscar (for her role as Effie in 2006's Dreamgirls) and a Grammy for her self-titled debut album in 2008.
But if the highs have been oh so high, the lows for Hudson have, tragically, been lower than low. On the heels of those career triumphs, she endured the murder of her mother, brother and nephew in October 2008.
She's had a son since then, sung the national anthem at Super Bowl XLIII and shed 80 pounds as a Weight Watchers spokeswoman. So its natural to wonder what Jennifer Hudson's latest effort says about her perspective on life and love and loss. As it turns out, I Remember Me brims with resilient confidence as she belts her way through a collection of soul-filled songs penned by heavy hitters R. Kelly, Alicia Keys, OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder and country music's Ronnie Dunn.
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Through the years, Hudson has talked about her Christian faith and her upbringing (and singing) in her Chicago church. That spiritual influence is most evident in her gospel-tinged take on Brooks & Dunn's "Believe." On it, Hudson tells the story of an old war veteran who's lost his wife and son. When she asks, "How ya keep from going crazy," he replies, "I'll see my wife and son in just a little while." The chorus, written from his perspective, adds, "I raise my hands, bow my head/I'm finding more and more truth in the words written in red/They tell me that it's more to life than just what I can see/Oh, I believe." The song ends with a blazing, "With all that I been through, I still believe/Yes, I do/ … Lord, I still believe."
"Still Here" delivers a heartfelt tribute to, presumably, Hudson's mother, whom she credits with shaping her self-image ("It's because of you I knew how it felt to be loved/You made me feel beautiful, 'cause you believed I was"). The chorus poignantly adds, "When I close my eyes/I still see you/ … You're still in my heart."
"I Got This" bursts with enthusiastic optimism as Hudson proclaims, "I got this, ain't no stopping me." The song also says, "God believes, smiles at me/'Cause when I fall, I won't drop/Something in me won't let me stop until I reach the top." On the title track, she seems determined not to forget the past but, at the same time, is equally determined not to let the past's wounds define her. "Everybody Needs Love" delivers exactly that message. And "Feeling Good" sums up Hudson's attitude with the words, "It's a new dawn, a new day/A new life for me/And I'm feeling good."
"Where You At" chides a smooth-talking beau for not making good on his promises, while "Don't Look Down" encourages a current flame not to focus on potential problems but to maintain a hopeful stance toward the future.
Some mildly suggestive hints of sensuality creep onto a couple of tracks. On "No One Gonna Love You," Hudson sings, "Why run from what's gonna hold you tight/Through any complications, baby, maybe we can start tonight/ … Ain't no one/ … Show you what I could show you." On "Angel," she says of her man, "Heaven's in your arms." Likewise, on "Gone," she shudders to think of what life would be like apart from her lover's embrace ("Can you imagine if we never got to spend those nights in each other's arms?").
In March 2009, about six months after a murderer claimed the lives of three close family members, Jennifer Hudson told Us magazine that she was coping with grief by "praying every morning and thanking God for every single blessing. [That] keeps me grounded and motivated to be the very best that I can be in everything that I do."
That posture is apparent on I Remember Me, as Hudson neither fixates on the losses she's endured, nor forgets them. Instead, she seems determined to forge a positive, hopeful path forward. Compared to some of the much more questionable material on her first release, Hudson seems more sure of herself here and light-years more mature. With two or three very brief exceptions, I Remember Me is a solid, hopeful, at times faith-inflected offering from a woman who's facing life head on with a smile on her face.