Michelle Williams - Journey to Freedom

Michelle Williams
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In the recording industry, it is not unusual for an artist to go on a “hiatus.”  Sometimes a hiatus signals a simple break from the stresses of the business, an unforeseen transition due to change of management or record label or simply a time of musical and personal reflection.  In other words, a hiatus can usher in a special sense of freedom while preparing to climb to the next artistic level.  That is what appears to be the scenario that applies to Michelle Williams, who was already experiencing a very satisfying solo recording chapter that balanced her gospel roots and channeled her R&B/pop diva days with Destiny Child.  Her first three CDs over the past 12 years (Heart to Yours, Do You Know and Unexpected) consistently registered enviable placements on the Billboard Charts in either Christian, R&B or Gospel.   Despite parting ways with her long time management company after her 2008 dance-flav

In the recording industry, it is not unusual for an artist to go on a “hiatus.”  Sometimes a hiatus signals a simple break from the stresses of the business, an unforeseen transition due to change of management or record label or simply a time of musical and personal reflection.  In other words, a hiatus can usher in a special sense of freedom while preparing to climb to the next artistic level.  That is what appears to be the scenario that applies to Michelle Williams, who was already experiencing a very satisfying solo recording chapter that balanced her gospel roots and channeled her R&B/pop diva days with Destiny Child.  Her first three CDs over the past 12 years (Heart to Yours, Do You Know and Unexpected) consistently registered enviable placements on the Billboard Charts in either Christian, R&B or Gospel.   Despite parting ways with her long time management company after her 2008 dance-flavored Unexpected, which produced the top 5 hits “We Break the Dawn” and “The Greatest,” Williams proceeded forward by sketching out what her fourth album would feel and sound like – an inspirational and praise mix showcasing her confidence in several genres. 

Compared to her earlier work, which was piloted by production team that included Solange Knowles and Tommy Sims, Williams chose one producing sensation in Harmony Samuels (Arianna Grande, Keysia Cole, i.e.) whose personable touch has accented and/or remixed many of pop and R&B’s hit makers in the U.K. and the U.S.   The hiatus finally wrapped up when Williams signed with gospel music institution Light Records/E-One, the label that once housed Andrae Crouch and The Winans, for the release of her highly anticipated fourth project, Journey to Freedom.  

Journey to Freedom, which made waves well before its release with three advance singles (two that reached in the top twenty-five on the Gospel charts), absolutely follows the protocol that Williams and Samuels envisioned: it is a musically enriching disc encompassing spiritually charged themes of freedom along with a healthy balance of energetic and quieter tracks. 

An old friend, Eric Dawkins from Dawkins & Dawkins, joins Williams on the funky R&B/EDM- fueled, “Need Your Help,” about staying patient so one can stay in His will.  One of Journey’s singles, “Fire,” bounces all the way with a reggae/R&B swagger, leading up to a gospel choir climax.  “Fall” has guest performer Tye Tribbett’s in your face fingerprints with its hip-hop machine gun beats, chants of “Lord let Your glory fall” and Lecrae dropping some sound scriptural advise: “Know they say that when two or three get together/ Your presence is there forever.”   Williams breezes through the well-crafted, uplifting pop of “In the Morning,” a song that could easily find a home in the Contemporary Christian market. “Say Yes” is Williams’ millennium spin on the Nigerian gospel treasure, “When Jesus Say Yes,” surrounded by Samuels’ modern yet infectious beats and solid solo contributions by Destiny Child partners Beyonce & Kelly Roland.   There are a couple of blemishes on Journey, such as “Just Like You,” with its over synthesized and thin vocal production, and the lame “put your hands up in the air” choruses on an otherwise resurgent, “Yes,” with lively Soca hooks and Williams’ soulful praise leads.   Yet whether the tempo or genre, Williams’ strongest asset is her honey-tinged voice that resonates sincerity in what she personally stands for, especially when she reaches for her reflective side.

“Everything” examines Williams’ personal emotional journey, with a declaration of how God is “a present help in time of trouble.”  The slow burning, intense sophisticated seventies soulful canvas of “If We Had Your Eyes,” is a captivating duet where Williams and Fantasia sing about seeing ourselves through Jesus’ life perspective.  Williams’ evokes a raw passion on “Free,” conveying the struggles of breaking life’s chains that can bind: “How did I get here?/Where did I lose it?”

This Journey to Freedom is by far Williams’ best body of work, a personal cleansing that further amplifies her dexterity with multiple genres.  Michelle Williams’ half-dozen year hiatus away from the studio has served its purpose: she has emerged as an artist clearly traveling on her own artistic road to freedom, and delivering an album that was well worth the wait.  Solidly Recommended

By Peggy Oliver

 
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