Jennifer Hudson opens her second studio album with a whopper of an understatement. ''I've been through some things,'' she sings over a shoop-shoop piano groove on ''No One Gonna Love You,'' and it's hard to know where to start: the horrific 2008 murders of her mom, brother, and nephew? The birth of her son in 2009? The 80 pounds she says she lost thanks to Weight Watchers? That's not even counting the American Idol and Oscar madness she experienced prior to the release of her self-titled debut. How this woman found the time to record I Remember Me is anyone's guess.
What's more surprising than the album's existence, though, is that Ms. Iron Pipes finally sounds like she's having some fun. Where 2008's Jennifer Hudson was bogged down with serious, self-assuring ballads, here she aims for a lighter vibe, flexing her newfound confidence on ''I Got This'' and coasting over producer Ryan Tedder's signature emo-soul synths on the sparkling title track. Her three collaborations with Alicia Keys are especially buoyant; ''Everybody Needs Love,'' co-produced by Keys' husband, Swizz Beatz, reveals Hudson's inner disco diva. Remember isn't entirely lead-free: ''Still Here,'' a dreary Diane Warren number, could sink a singer with even better chops than Hudson's. But all you have to do is hear her appealingly brassy take on the oft-Idol-abused warhorse ''Feeling Good'' to know Hudson has somehow found a route to happiness. B+
Where You At, written and produced by R. Kelly, at Last.fm
Don't Look Down, an uptempo R&B jam, at Last.fm