Occasionally, while listening to breakout soul singer Kina's debut CD "Girl From the Gutter," you may feel like taking your sailboat out for a cruise and hanging carefree off the railing, or skipping through the hall banging on everyone's locker or whirling around in a meadow. Of course, doing these things might place you in either a Tampax commercial or a WB show. But Kina will make you feel as if all this is possible and even, God help you, desirable.
Kina (nee Kina Cosper) may be an unfamiliar face, but she's no new kid on the block. Selling her musical wares without the benefit of choreographed dancers, raging hormones or an exploding set, she's had a career path similar to Sheryl Crow's: She's a backup singer who'd rather not say how long she's been around, as well as a newly minted songwriter who's finally getting her moment. Of course you don't get hired as a replacement in R&B trio Brownstone or tour with Barry White just for being able to decorate a stage. Kina has something more: a mix of pop anthems and ballads, and an arresting voice that falls somewhere between Tina Turner and Chaka Khan.
The album's kick-ass single, "Girl From the Gutter," is a perfect introduction, complete with lyrics dissing Kina's apparent naysayers. "Karma's gonna visit you too/You're gonna pay for the things you put me through/I hope you do, I hope you do," she sings. As a "you'll be sorry now boy" song, it makes Mariah Carey's "Someday" sound shallower than Natalie Imbruglia.
"Girl From the Gutter" is undeniably the single that best showcases Kina's voice. It's also a song about self-affirmation, which is a theme of the album. One of the other ego-boosting numbers is titled -- natch -- "Me." "I'm just me, I'm in love/With myself, I'm in love ... I wish everybody could just feel this kinda love." Warning: You might get carried away enough by the song's rolling, bopping feel that you forget to laugh at the words.
But not everything on "Girl From the Gutter" is so upbeat. Kina sings down 'n' out, desperation and devotion as well as anyone. "I Love You" delivers a soaring ode to a boyfriend who needs some reassuring. And again, even when the album's lyrics get absurd (which they do -- the chorus of the relationship ballad "Give and Take" begins, "If you could bring me a rose/I'll go and get you a beer"), Kina proves that a song is all in the delivery. Singing "Give and Take" in a sweet, higher register that departs from the one she uses in most of her other songs, she displays a versatility that could make her a heartbreaker with some stronger material.
Most of the album follows a pattern, with softer verses that sneak up on wail-your-guts-out choruses. That's because Kina's best on up-tempo songs. Some of the slower, bluesier tunes, slow down the album to where it loses focus a bit. Then again, the slower "Have a Cry," on which she pleads for the chance to let it all out without being subject to "no goddamn happy speech," is one of the strongest tracks on the record.
Relative newcomer London Jones shares co-writing credits on most of the songs and also produced much of the record. Kina's solo turn on the mixing board, "Hurts So Bad," has an a cappella opening that sounds a little collegiate before giving way to a production that neither stands out nor offends. For now, Kina's bankable talent is her voice -- and that heart behind it.