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Cole has always given voice to women struggling with love and involvement with men worthy and unworthy of their affections. Her fifth CD digs deeper than recent efforts, and she captures the conflicted emotions and small revelations of desire with honesty and clarity. Like Mary J. Blige and Jazmine Sullivan, Cole infuses her music with an undeniable urgency through her throaty, sensual vocals. Whether she’s singing about moving on after betrayal (the terrific “Who’s Gonna Hold Me Down”) or making choices while staring down tough truths (“I Choose You”), there’s no doubt this is a woman completely invested in transcending ordinary love. The songs are uniformly good and produced with restraint to allow the singer room to breathe life into the first-person narratives. Unfortunately, there are two requisite MC cameos, which threaten to sink strong songs (a bored Lil Wayne mars “Enough of No Love”). Those missteps aside, Cole has made a record from the heart that speaks on a universal level. (Out now) KEN CAPOBIANCO
ESSENTIAL “I Choose You”