While her voice may sound thin when juxtaposed with that of fellow Destiny’s Child bellower Beyoncé Knowles’s, Michelle Williams’s solo debut, the pop-gospel opus Heart to Yours, affords the singer an opportunity to prove she can hold her own. On tracks like the album’s lead single, “Heard a Word,” Williams’s warm vocal recalls both the playful wisps of her R&B contemporaries (Jill Scott, Erykah Badu) and the breathy timbre of Diana Ross. The album, honed to suit both the contemporary gospel crowd and Destiny’s Child fans alike, is a mix of slick hip-hop-style beats, inspirational themes and catchy, pop-friendly hooks. The title track begins with a surprisingly eloquent (and non-denominational) sentiment (“Before time was, you were/And when it’s over, you will be”) that is delicately strung throughout songs like the infectious “So Glad” and “Everything,” a track which invokes Mary J. Blige’s 1997 hit of the same name and much of Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation.
While the album’s largely restrained arrangements are admirable, certain moments (like the somewhat soulless “Sun Will Shine Again”) beg for drama. It’s not until halfway through the album that traditional gospel signposts like organs, harmonicas and choirs finally kick in and, even then, the “urban gospel” hybrid doesn’t always work. “Rock with Me” begins well enough with a moving rendition of Leon Patillo’s “Cornerstone,” but then morphs into an industrial-strength “Survivor”-esque anthem. “Change the World” gets tongued-tied in its generalities and grandiose statements: “You’ve been called by God to change the world/And now is the time.” The stirring “Gospel Medley,” originally from Survivor and featured on Heart to Yours, is the kind of harmony-rich ballad one might expect from a gospel album and let’s all praise the Lord that it’s here.