The timing is off -- way off. But Sunshine Anderson feels it's better late than never. After nearly six years of silence, the R&B; singer has finally released her sophomore effort, Sunshine After Midnight. The CD belatedly follows her hit 2001 debut, Your Woman.
Spurred by the sassy, strutting crossover smash "Heard It All Before," that album entered the Top 10 on Billboard's pop charts five Aprils ago, eventually going gold. Anderson's lyrical directness and swaggering, slightly off-key approach drew comparisons to the original 'hood-rat diva, Mary J. Blige. A hit album, strong reviews, a national tour opening for R. Kelly -- the North Carolina native had it going on. Then ... nothing.
"It was all politics," says Anderson, who last week was visiting family in her hometown of Charlotte. "But I'm in a good place now."
After Atlantic, her former label, merged with Warner Bros. Records, the singer's contract was left in limbo. So Anderson asked to be released from the deal, which took a while. Once she was set free, the singer-songwriter decided to call the shots on her own label. She formed Shining Star Incorporated and partnered with Music World Music, a label run by Matthew Knowles, Beyonce's dad.
"I signed with him in August 2004," says the Atlanta resident, who comes across as assured and down-home over the phone. A rich Southern twang coats her speech like warm syrup. "This is a partnership, you know. Sunshine Anderson is a business now."
Smart move. In a way, Anderson is a new artist on the scene again. Because of the label drama, she lost precious momentum.
"I've watched my peers pass me by," she says with a sigh. "Musiq Soulchild, India.Arie -- those folks who came out when I did all went on and did their thing. That was hard for me."
With Sunshine After Midnight, the artist tries to pick up where Your Woman left off. Several songs she recorded five years ago appear on the new album. But here's the problem: Those cuts, whose acidic lyrics focus mostly on kicking doggish dudes to the curb, don't reflect Anderson's personal or artistic growth, the singer says.
"I've read the reviews. They're still saying I'm ... bitter ...," she says. "But I've grown. I don't wanna sound like I'm angry, because I'm in a different place now. But don't get it twisted: It is what it is. It's hard for women out here. Don't let these [guys] walk over you. My fans know Sunshine's gonna keep it real like that. Beyonce is making those songs, Keyshia Cole is making the songs. I'm not the only one."
Uh-huh, we know. But Anderson's hit-the-road-jack numbers come off a bit whiny. Though her vocals sound fuller this time out, interlocking more with the groove, the material doesn't serve her well. She doesn't convey emotional distress with the tears and venom found in Blige's best work.
Besides, isn't there something better to sing about? Sunshine After Midnight drags on with tune after derivative tune about a do-nothing man. If the album were a conceptual work, a story cycle of sorts, that would make sense. I guess. But as it is, the CD begs for more personality, verve and a thoughtful diversity of lyrical content.
"If this album had come out like it was supposed to, you could hear where I am today," says Anderson, who doesn't divulge her age. "I'm not angry anymore. Ain't no [guy] in the world can bring me down right now. I'm like sunshine, which is my real name."
Next time, let us feel more of it.