February 03, 2003 12:00 PM

Syleena Johnson (Jive)

When you subtitle your album The Voice, you had better not warble like J.Lo. On the sequel to Johnson’s 2001 debut disc, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, the singer brings to mind the classic-soul era, when it was all about the pipes rather than the producers or the videos. With her bluesy, grits-and-gravy alto, she gives a down-home flavor to gospel-tinged ballads like the R. Kelly-written “Guess What.” Best, though, is “Guitars of the Heart (Happy),” which, with its rootsy acoustic guitar and Johnson’s raspy, earthy vocals, sounds like India.Arie meets Millie Jackson.

BOTTOM LINE: Singing her praises

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