May 06, 2002 12:00 PM

Michelle Williams (Columbia)

Give Michelle Williams credit: While practically everyone expected Beyoncé Knowles to be the first member of Destiny’s Child to release a solo album, Williams has beaten her to it (this, despite the fact that she was the last of the current lineup to join the hitmaking R&B trio in 2000). On Heart to Yours, her first disc as an Only Child, Williams, 21, has gone from bootylicious to Bible-licious with a gospel collection that returns the singer to her roots in the church choir.

Williams, whose raspy timbre makes her the least glossy of the Destiny’s Child harmonists, has a soulful voice with a spiritual inflection that is pitch-perfect for gospel, from contemporary to more traditional numbers. And she seems to be inspired by her religious material here, even holding her own in a duet with gospel-great Shirley Caesar on a powerful rendition of the hymn “Steal Away to Jesus.” A few of the tunes, including the title track produced by Williams’s brother Erron and cowritten by the two siblings, sound a bit too secular, no doubt to appease Destiny’s fans. On the stirring “You Care for Me,” though, Williams shows that her heart really is music with a higher calling.

Bottom Line: Williams fulfills her destiny

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