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KORVA COLEMAN, host:

And we conclude today's program by marking the return of the woman nicknamed The Voice.

(Soundbite of song, "I Will Always Love You")

Ms. WHITNEY HOUSTON (Singer): (Singing) I hope life treats you kind and I hope...

COLEMAN: Whitney Houston is not only one of the bestselling artists in the world; she's a pop music icon with hits such as "Saving All My Love For You," "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," and this song, "I Will Always Love You."

(Soundbite of song, "I Will Always Love You")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) And I will always love you. I will always love you...

COLEMAN: Now Whitney Houston is back with a long anticipated CD titled "I Look To You," that hit stores yesterday.

And here to review Whitney Houston's latest work is Steve Jones, a music critic for USA TODAY.

Steve, welcome to the program.

Mr. STEVE JONES (Music Critic, USA Today): Thanks for having me.

COLEMAN: Before we jump into this interview, let's hear some of Whitney's new music. What songs stand out for you on this album?

Mr. JONES: Her current hit right now is "Million Dollar Bill," which was written by Alicia Keys and produced by Swizz Beatz, and I think the idea was to kind of bring her back with a contemporary kind of mid-tempo song that would probably get her into some newer fans as well as her older fans, who I think will support her no matter what she does.

(Soundbite of song, "Million Dollar Bill")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) Came in the door, checked in my coat, and who I'm looking for is staring in my face. Oh, oh, oh. They played our song. We hit the floor. He held me strong. And we danced the night away. Oh, oh, oh I've been looking for something like this...

COLEMAN: How did she come to collaborate with Alicia Keys?

Mr. JONES: Well, you know, this whole comeback has been orchestrated by Clive Davis, who was her mentor in the beginning.

COLEMAN: Clive Davis, the legendary music producer.

Mr. JONES: Yeah. And he has for about a year now been really gathering songwriters and producers, trying to create the perfect scenario for her to come back.

COLEMAN: How does this latest CD of Whitney Houston's compared to the classic music that we're long accustomed to?

Mr. JONES: I think that she is trying to get back to that sound, but at the same time this is a singer who has not been around very much for the last six years. And really her last really great album was 10 years ago. So this is kind of a cautious re-launch of her career, I think.

COLEMAN: Steve, you've described the album as cautious, doesn't take a lot of risks. I assume. Does one really want to re-launch a singing career by releasing music that could be considered tepid?

Mr. JONES: I think right now what she has to do is reestablish herself just as an artist. You have to remember, she's coming from a pretty deep hole. She hasn't fed her fans for a very long time and a whole generation of other fans have come up who basically only know her from her trials and tribulations and, you know, it really kind of short circuited what was a really impressive career.

COLEMAN: In appealing to some of her old fans, which of these songs do you think might stand out most for them?

Mr. JONES: I think that "I Didn't Know My Own Strength" is kind of one of those power ballads that she used to be known for.

(Soundbite of song, "I Didn't Know My Own Strength")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) I didn't know my own strength and I crashed down, and I tumbled, but I did not crumble. I got through all the pain. I didn't know my own strength...

COLEMAN: Whitney Houston's drawn years of attention for self-destructive behavior - drug abuse, alcoholism, friction and finally divorce from her husband, Bobby Brown. Now, she doesn't reference him on the album but she sure does seem to allude to relationship trouble, at least with one of the songs, written by R. Kelly, "Salute." Let's hear a bit of that.

(Soundbite of song "Salute")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) You wanna walk away. You ain't got nothing to say. I salute you. Yeah, go on out the door now, you take care. No more tears to shed. What, you expecting me to beg, well I'm not. I'm done. When you leave just close the door behind you, 'cause I'm feeling kind...

COLEMAN: So what's Whitney Houston trying to say to us as listeners with this song, "Salute?"

Mr. JONES: I think as listeners she's trying to say that she's been through all sorts of drama and that she is ready to move on. One of the things that struck me about listening to the whole album was that she didn't really go into a whole lot of recriminations or looking for pity. She's just kind of saying I went through a lot, some of it was my fault, and I'm moving on.

COLEMAN: Steve Jones, what happens if Whitney Houston's CD flops?

Mr. JONES: They'll have to go back to the drawing board. You know, she has a history of taking a long time between CD's. After she did "The Bodyguard" there was a long time between albums. She did "The Preacher's Wife" and there was another long gap before the next album.

I really don't think that she can afford to do that again if she really wants to be viable. This album was released on kind of an odd day just so it could make the Grammy nomination deadline, and I think that what they're hoping is she will be able to get a lot of Grammy nominations that will kind of boost her profile.

COLEMAN: How did Whitney's latest effort strike you, Steve Jones?

Mr. JONES: I think it was good when you consider she's a 46-year-old singer who hasn't been singing a whole lot and she's not yet old enough to just fall into that aging diva role that, say, an Aretha Franklin could. But at the same time, she's kind of past the ingénue stage, which was what she was when she first came around.

COLEMAN: Are there any songs that you liked particularly on this album?

Mr. JONES: Well, "Salute" was one of my favorite ones, and I also kind of liked the treatment she did with "A Song For You." That's the Leon Russell song and it's the only cover on the album. Normally that's done as a very poignant ballad, and she kind of gave it an up-tempo treatment.

COLEMAN: Steve Jones is a music critic for USA Today and he joined us from his office in McLean, Virginia.

Steve, thank you very much.

Mr. JONES: You're welcome. It's my pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "A Song For You")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) I know your image of me is what I hope to be.

COLEMAN: And that's our program for today. I'm Korva Coleman and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "A Song For You")

Ms. HOUSTON: (Singing) There's no one more important to me, baby, can't you see through me...

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