The Hummingbird Sings Again 

R&B's Tweet returns to bare her soul

Hopefully her sophomore album, It's Me Again, will help Tweet emerge from the shadows. While she's still best known for her debut single "Oops (Oh My)" - a song she insists is about pure "self-love" and not the "self-love" others suspect - Tweet is far from a disposable one-hit wonder. Her wonderfully eclectic 2002 debut album, Southern Hummingbird, was an intimate collection of music that ranged from the uptempo jam "Call Me" to the reflective ballad "Smoking Cigarettes." A rare artist in today's music landscape, Charlene Keys (who family members have always called Tweet) prides herself on making her music personal.

"I can only write songs that are from my diary," the Atlanta-based singer says from a tour bus rolling through Orlando. "I think when the world sees or gets to know artists, they feel like, 'Wow, she's just like me. I went through the same thing.' So I try to keep it as personal as possible. I don't mind being an open book. What I sing about can be help for somebody else."

Before the release of her first album, Tweet was on the brink of suicide. Then, Missy Elliott, a friend from when they both were aspiring artists working with Devante Swing of Jodeci, called her to do some background vocals. The move changed Tweet's life. Missy signed Tweet to her label, resulting in the release of Southern Hummingbird.

She describes the first album as "dark." But the new one has a soulful sound that reflects her church background and recalls the great fusion of gospel energy and secular subjects that birthed soul music.

The first single, "Turn Da Lights Off," kicks off with a sample of Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn's "If This World Were Mine," then it vibes like those early '70s records that used to jump-start a house party. This updated retro sound extends to other songs, like the funny "Sports, Sex & Food" and "Cab Ride," which samples the theme song from the TV show "Taxi."

"I just didn't want to repeat myself," says the Rochester, N.Y., native, explaining the artistic direction for the album. "I feel like I've matured as an artist as well as a woman, so I'm much happier. I wanted my fans and the people that buy the album to grow with me and take that journey with me. I know that this album is totally different. ... It wasn't really nothing that I sat down and said, 'It needs to sound like this,' but it just happened."

One thing that didn't just happen was Tweet's decision to move to Atlanta. "I just love Atlanta," she says. "It's Southern hospitality. It's spread out. I can see the sky and the trees and green grass, so that's beautiful to me. Atlanta is a place that I wanted to raise my daughter."

In fact, her daughter, Tashawna, sings on the cut "Two of Us." But for now, there is only one full-time singer in the family. "I don't want her to end up like one of the child stars," she says. "When she gets older, she has my support if she wants to do that."

For now, Tweet is dealing with her own struggles in the music business. "They are not willing to even support any good music and that frustrates me, like the soul in music is gone," she says. "There's a void and all they want to push is those records that really don't have any substance. I'm not saying that the artists that put out records are not doing what they feel. But what about soul music?"

music@creativeloafing.com

Tweet's new album, It's Me Again, is in stores now.

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