Recording information: Fonogenic Studios; The Studio For The Talented and Gifted, Los Angels.
Stacy Barthe's first album, following a handful of EPs and tracks released from 2013 through early 2015, begins with a song written after her attempted suicide. Its candid despair isn't liable to surprise anyone familiar with Barthe's previous work, like "Drink My Pain Away," or some of her darker compositions recorded by other artists. As a songwriter, Barthe's commercial successes include Rihanna's "Cheers (Drink to That)" and Miley Cyrus' "Adore You," but there are no party anthems or potential wedding songs on BEcoming, a rare major-label R&B album for soul-searching introverts. Aside from a cover of Anita Baker's quiet storm classic "Angel," on which she is joined by co-executive producer John Legend (whose Love in the Future contained an interlude-length version), Barthe co-wrote every song and is listed first each time. She details a mess of feelings and resigned observations. If they weren't arranged so neatly, or delivered in such a poised, almost cool fashion -- Barthe never oversings, rarely raises her voice -- the hour-length album would be hard to absorb, perhaps even for wallowers, in one sitting. Production-wise, BEcoming freely ranges from genre to genre -- contemporary R&B, folk, even a little dub and shadowy synth-pop -- and often blends them with finesse. The album's heart, however, is in its two barest songs, sequenced back to back. "Me Versus Me," a Grammy-worthy piano ballad, recalls the best of Carole King, while "Find It (Transition)," heaved along on nothing more than a bass drum and a few faint accents of piano and strings, completes the previous song's thoughts -- "It's still an uphill battle" -- with "I gotta find a new way to live." She should be well on her way. ~ Andy Kellman