There haven’t been a lot of newcomers in the R&B field worth mentioning over the past couple of years, but Chrisette Michele is definitely a star on the rise. Most people first heard her distinctive voice singing the choruses of Jay-Z’s “Lost One” and Nas’ “Can’t Forget About You”. With a vocal delivery and phrasing straight out of early 20th century jazz, she applied that voice to contemporary rhythms on her debut album, I Am, which was a modest commercial success (and a Grammy winner).

Two years later, album #2, Epiphany, is on shelves, and Chrisette has changed her style slightly. It’s a more youthful-sounding album:  a more vibrant, sunnier effort from a musical standpoint, and there’s a little more of a hip-hop knock to it from a production standpoint (in simpler terms, the beats are harder) Vocally, Chrisette has mostly dropped the jazzy inflections, but still has a very mature voice, sorta like a younger version of Jill Scott. Very similar musically to Ne-Yo’s Year of the Gentleman. Small wonder, then, that Ne-Yo himself did a lot of the heavy lifting on this record, serving as executive producer and co-writing about 2/3 of this album’s tracks.

The cool thing about Ne-Yo’s productions is that he’s expanded his sound so that his songs aren’t immediately recognizable (unlike most other R&B and hip-hop songwriter/producers)-well, except for the ironically titled Another One, an acoustic-guitar-and-handclaps jam that sounds very much like Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”. The album’s hit title track has a gently knocking beat, but Chrisette’s message is no-nonsense: “I think I’m just about over being your girlfriend/so I’m leaving”. It’s one of the better F.U. songs I’ve heard in a while, maybe because it’s so sweetly sung that you don’t immediately realize it’s a breakup song. Ne-Yo himself gives vocal assistance on the midtempo hand-clapper What You Do, with his Jackson-esque backgrounds providing the perfect complement for Chrisette’s tale of infatuation.

Chrisette definitely earns her diva stripes with the big power ballads Blame it on Me and I’m Okay, but she also proves she can get down on the dance floor with the bubbly, effervescent Playin’ Our Song. She sounds completely natural on both ends of the spectrum. Mostly, though, Epiphany stays grounded in midtempo territory. That would normally signify a boring album, and there are a couple of songs here that just kinda float by, but the majority of the album is well-performed. There’s just no bells and whistles, and every once in a while you have to remind yourself that sometimes good music comes without flash.

While Chrisette has changed her style ever-so-slightly, Epiphany isn’t going to scare away the fans who purchased her first album. It’s mature, well-crafted R&B, with classic melodies and lyrics against contemporary production. The songs have a little bit of bite in them, but there’s a high standard of craftsmanship here. Chrisette and Ne-Yo comprise one R&B partnership that I wouldn’t mind hearing again.