Likes: Believe in Me, In the Morning, If We Had Your Eyes, Say Yes
Overall: A fresh, strong body of work that can appeal to both secular & spiritual audiences
Michelle Williams returns to her contemporary gospel grain with Journey to Freedom. As usual, it’s so audibly noticeable that Williams knows exactly who she is as an artist and has a clear projection and directive in mind. With songwriter/producer Harmony Samuels at Freedom’s helm, the music is as ripe as ever and an unconventional, intriguing approach to spiritual content. The “This isn’t your mama’s church music-ness” is most evident on “Everything” and “Fall,” which takes its cue from trap hip-hop. The production may be untraditionally more secular, but the lyrics are still lush with biblical references and matter relatable to those staunch in Christianity. It’s difficult to appeal to multiple, alternate audiences without coming off as patronizing, gimmicky or inauthentic, but Williams exudes genuine energy. I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian household, but was never an avid listener of gospel or religious music. Sometimes, it was a little cheesy to me or exclusive. I can get through a Michelle Williams record because her presentation is accessible and palpable. Another continual strength of hers, as heard on this album, is that most of the tracks are likable. On each of my reviews, I list the songs I liked and disliked with an overall synopsis. If there are songs I’m absolutely over the moon for, I’ll label them as “Favorites.” While I didn’t have any hard-pressed favorites, I had trouble narrowing down my “likes” and many of the songs linger in my head. Vocally, Williams is a conundrum to what we’re used to hearing (especially in R&B, soul and gospel): she’s a perceptible soprano, but her trademark raspy tone is more typical of an alto. For this, some listeners may deem her voice to be either especially unique or an acquired taste. In any case, Williams should be given credit for knowing what she she’s doing and that Journey to Freedom is a pleasurable, consistent work on its own and as a part of her discography.