-- Melanie Fiona, "The MF Life" deluxe version (Universal Republic Records/Title 9/SRC)
With freshman jitters behind her and two Grammy wins under her belt, Melanie Fiona returns with a sophomore album that stays true to her eclectic sound – a mix of soul, R&B, rock, doo-wop and reggae.
"The MF Life" picks up where Fiona's debut, "The Bridge," left off. She still sings of love, heartbreak and frustration, mostly over lush, soulful instruments backed with old-school harmonies.
The album opener "This Time," featuring her Roc Nation affiliate rapper J. Cole, has a tribal, marching band-like beat most likely to evoke a Beyoncé dance groove.
Fiona's range and rich tone shine on the Rico Love-produced "4 AM," about a straying lover out until the early hours of the morning. "I don't deserve his lies. I'd make the perfect wife," she croons, sounding defeated (until later in the album).
On the Drake-penned "I Been That Girl," Fiona turns big sister, giving relationship advice to those in an unhappy union. "Running," featuring hip-hop veteran Nas, is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse with a doo-wop groove and production by the late singer's longtime collaborator, Salaam Remi.
The power girl anthem "Change the Record" featuring rapper B.o.B. calls for ladies unsatisfied with their relationship to "do better, if you don't like how he's playing, then change the record." But Fiona soon realizes her pride isn't as big as her heart_ with an epiphany that she wants her old flame back, but he's left for good_ in the piano-heavy "Gone and Never Coming Back."
Fiona shows optimism in the feel good, retro-soul duet "L.O.V.E." with singer John Legend. T-Pain also appears on the catchy, midtempo "6 AM"
The most clever lyrics come on the deluxe edition track "Rock, Paper, Scissors," a take on the childhood game, where Fiona asks an indecisive pursuer, "Are you going to crush my heart, cover me, cut me off? Make your decision boy."
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: Fiona's voice soars on "Wrong Side of a Love Song," a heart-wrenching tale of love gone bad, comparable to her 2009 breakout hit "It Kills Me," but equally compelling, emotional and vulnerable.