I WAS SO ready for him to get off the stage I didn't know what to do.
It was standing room only that night about three years ago at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York's Times Square. And Glenn Lewis was numbing my brain trying to come off sexy while jacking Stevie Wonder-isms throughout his performance. The neo-soul singer was sharing a bill with Tweet, and I really had come to check her out, anyway.
The ebony-haired, pouty-lipped beauty had rocketed into the Top 10 with her naughty single "Oops (Oh My)." With its clever keyboard loop and knocking beat, the song was one of the oddest concoctions on the radio with its suggestive lyrics.
In interviews, Tweet said the record was about "self-love" and overcoming insecurities. Whatever the message, the ditty was an immediate hit and sent her charming debut, 2002's Southern Hummingbird, to gold sales.
Glenn finally left the stage and, after a short intermission, Tweet breezed on backed by a powerful band and three strong backup singers. Decked out in white, she rocked it, her voice sounding fuller and more gospel-inflected than the feathery approach she favored on Southern Hummingbird, an album that displayed great promise.
Then three years passed and nothing. It seemed the Rochester, N.Y., native who turned out the B.B. King Blues Club that warm spring evening had become a one-hit wonder. But the singer born Charlene Keys is back with her long-awaited sophomore effort, It's Me Again, which hit stores Tuesday.
During the period away from the spotlight, "I was making music," says Tweet, who's calling me from her cell phone en route to a radio interview in Washington. "But my label, Elektra, merged with Atlantic, so that held up the record. And I didn't want to put it out while the companies were merging. The people who would have handled it aren't there anymore, so I'm glad I waited."
In the meantime, the 32-year-old Missy Elliott protege stayed in the studio and tweaked the album, which delivers on the promise of the first. It's Me Again is a more fluid showcase than Southern Hummingbird, with its accessible, often seductive tunes about the many looks of love. Only this time around, Tweet's blues aren't as heavy as they were on the debut. She's not strumming her beloved guitar and crooning wrist-slitting tales like "Smoking Cigarettes" or "Motel." Girlfriend has healed herself; she has moved on. No more crying over the dog who did her dirty. The overall feel of It's Me Again is brighter, more assured, even celebratory in some spots.
"The album is still about my life experiences," says Tweet, whose voice sounds a bit husky on the phone. Her addiction to Marlboro Ultra Lights probably has something to do with that. "Vocally, I'm better. I've grown so much. I'm in a happier place in my life now, so you feel that in the music."
After a brief intro, "Turn Da Lights Off," the artist's latest single, kick-starts the disc. Produced by Missy and Kwame (yeah, the polka dot-sporting rapper from back in the day), the sexy number isn't as catchy as "Oops (Oh My)" but it's just as odd, with its looped whining string sample and cleverly placed vinyl scratches. It's a brilliant blend of flavors: old-school soul and hip-hop. That bottom-heavy mix is maintained throughout the 15-cut album, fattened here and there with live instrumentation and layered vocal harmonies, all of which Tweet performs herself.
On the floating "You," the singer is a one-woman Jones Girls, her honey harmonies drifting on a lazy-river production that sounds like hip-hopped Curtis Mayfield. Sassy horns spice up "My Man," a throwback soul ballad. Handclaps and an old New Orleans-style piano sample enliven "Sports, Sex & Food," a funny ditty about how to catch and keep a man.
"I was listening to a lot of old soul music when I was making this record," says Tweet, who sings an affecting duet with her 15-year-old daughter Tashawna on the track "Two of Us."
"I was listening to a lot of Bob Marley, the Clark Sisters, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway. I wanted some of that old feeling back."
That "old feeling" is smartly couched in forward-thinking arrangements. Much of It's Me Again was produced by the ever-inventive Missy Elliott, Tweet's longtime friend.
"I want to bring music back to the soul and substance, where you're talking about something," the artist says. "It's about bringing the soul back."