Music Review: Jazmine Sullivan's dazzling second act
In this CD cover image released by J Records, Jazmine Sullivan's "Love Me Back" is shown. (AP Photo/J Records)

Jazmine Sullivan's sophomore disc, "Love Me Back," is something amazing.

Sure, her first album was good. But what the 23-year-old powerhouse does on the second reveals a layer 2008 debut "Fearless" only hinted at.

Her first two singles, the Missy Elliot-produced "Holding You Down (Goin' in Circles)" and Salaam Remi-produced "10 Seconds" pay homage to around-the-way-girl predecessor Mary J. Blige by taking bits of her early songs. But while Sullivan has done a great job of playing Philly's version of the faithful (and sometimes vengeful) ride-or-die chick, she is not boxed in by the role.

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"He was a boss that I knew in Harlem/ gave me my first taste but I had to go farther/I mean I had to go harder/ I started calling up his crib just to get him/ And I didn't even care/ I'd ask his wife if she was with him," Sullivan sings over meandering piano on the solemn "Redemption."

The story unfolds to reveal two things. First, Sullivan is singing not from the perspective of a mistress, but a drug fiend. And second, she's a daring co-writer, belting her second verse from the viewpoint of an emotionally and physically abusive man.

Every lilt of Sullivan's voice is a shot to the heart on the lovesick "Stuttering." The emotive "Excuse Me" is another sweetly addictive ballad. Things are fun on the uptempo Prince-influenced "Good Enough" and "Don't Make Me Wait." And the title track, "Love Me Back," just might have everyone wondering, "How could we not?"

Check out this track: "Love You Long Time" opens with a bluegrass harmony, bulks up with some marching band drumming, and only Sullivan could make it all work.

'Love Me Back'

Jazmine Sullivan

(J Records)

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