Cry (Warner Bros. Records)

Get ready for a shock when you cue up your copy of Cry, Faith Hill's fifth album and her first in three years.

The sleek, swinging R&B beats that greet your ears are no joke, and no mistake: this is Faith Hill, 2002. She's been edging toward the far side of the country-pop divide for some time now, but Cry is a headlong vault - an unapologetically twangless hour of modern R&B-flavored pop.

Whatever you call it, Faith Hill sings the heck out of it. Cry represents a major step forward for her as a singer as she reaches back to influences like Aretha Franklin for a heavy dose of old-fashioned soul.

What she's singing about is love, of course, as well as personal freedom and uplift. Even a heart-wrenching breakup song like the thundering title hit is really about searching for personal pride in a sea of romantic misery: I don't want your pity, I just want what is mine, she sings.

After an album full of elaborate production, Cry concludes with the contrastingly stark piano ballad "You're Still Here." It's about the way a loved one's impact remains long after they've departed, and its indelible imagery - along with Faith's powerfully restrained performance - will keep its memory lingering with you in just the same way. It's simply devastating.

That's the price of dismissing an album like this one because it isn't "country" enough - anyone who did might miss a moment like "You're Still Here." So relax, open your mind, and have a good Cry.

-- Chris Neal

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