Three Top Ten R&B albums into her career, Chrisette Michele moves from Def Jam to Motown for Better, an album inspired by personal development. Recovery from both a breakup and a negative self-image informs much of the material, from the booming optimism of the opening "Be in Love" ("I wanna love again, try one more time") to the closing "Can the Cool Be Loved?" (I'm on display, no defense/Sayin' what I say, no offense"). Instead of working strictly with Chuck Harmony, as she did on 2010's Let Freedom Reign, she collaborates with several producers. Harmony handles the title track, which sounds like it had Deniece Williams in mind until Chrisette's voice slides into an empowered wail. Pop & Oak contribute the O'Jays-sampling "A Couple of Forevers," one of the pair's better twinkling-ballad backdrops, and allow Chrisette's lead and background lines to dominate. "Let Me Win," made with Carvin & Ivan, recalls the singer's debut with its surprisingly fresh-sounding combination of a well-known breakbeat -- courtesy of the Soul Searchers -- and lively piano. Better overflows with positivity and Chrisette's natural dynamism. The emotional reach within her whisper mode alone is greater than most can express with their full range. Another development is that she is a little less inhibited. Although she remains miles away from Kelly Rowland territory, she's seductive even when she's forthright about "throwing you shade," as on the slinking Wizzy Wow production "Charades" -- easily one of her best songs, laced with inimitable hushed phrasing. The deluxe 20-track edition is necessary for two cool and mellow collaborations with Musiq (Soulchild), as well as a hot, thermostat-shattering Wizzy Wow track.
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