Michelle Williams - Unexpected (2008)

Michelle Williams
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In spite of the world tours, platinum plaques and the innumerable accolades that accompany fortune and fame, it's probably not hard to believe that few ladies would want to trade places with former Destiny's Child member Tenitra Michelle Williams. She joined the wildly popular group after the abrupt exit of LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson in 2000, but had a hard time carving out a niche for herself beyond being 'The Quiet One' in comparison to Kelly Rowland and Beyonce Knowles. Although she holds the distinction as being the first member of DC to perform on Broadway (2003's Aida, 2007-2008 Chicago cast of The Color Purple) and the first to release a solo CD outside of the group (2002's Heart to Yours), she remains in the shadows of the other two, something she's made great strides to free herself from with her third solo release and her first non-gospel CD, Unexpected.

Michelle's style of music this time around certainly gives rise to the title; consider it a hybrid of Euro-esque dance and pop tunes, written and produced by the likes the Stargate, Rico Love and the increasingly-prolific Solange Knowles (who co-wrote the first single, "We Break the Dawn"). She doesn't have the vocal sass of Kelly Rowland, or the brassy pipes of Beyonce, but she does have a warm, coy girly soprano that floats airly over the pulsating, club-ready "Hello Heartbreak," and the love-struck jam, "Lucky Girl": "And when he gets me all alone, oooh, he kisses and hugs me, and he lets me know that I'm his only girl." She'll also raise eyebrows with the secular set with the breathy "will you be my lover" plea at the beginning of another surging uptempo, "Til the End of the World."

As far as the mid-tempos and the ballads, that's where she seems the most comfortable, and the slower pacing allows some resonance to settle in her vocals. "The Greatest" is the most devotional-sounding song on the CD, giving praise to whatever inspires most in one's life (friends, the Lord, etc.); and "Stop This Car," the Stargate production, speaks of a roller-coaster ride of a relationship moving onto the wrong track, making her want to get off: "you got your eyes on the road and on so many things, it's just like I'm not here." "Thank U" is a barb-filled dismissal of trif-a-ling, good-for-nothing type of brother (sorry, couldn't resist) whose mistreatment leads to her upgrading to a better man: "I wanna thank you, for staying out late all the time, while you were out getting yours Boy, I was getting mine." The title track is even more cutting, depicting a wallflower-turned-woman turning the tables on a duplicitious man: "Did you really think you could call the shots, I wouldn't figure it out, or connect the dots?" Ouch.

Unexpected won't set the world on fire, but it is a mildly-recommended and fun----if frothy---collection of dance and pop. If she can build her own momentum without waiting on the DC connection to boost her standing, then she'll finally be able to carve a successful stand-apart niche.

By Melody Charles