Heather Headley, 'Audience of One'
Heather Headley Audience of One
ESSENTIAL "I Wish"
Heather Headley just might have the purest and boldest voice in pop. If anyone needs proof, the evidence is here on her first foray into gospel music. Headley, who has won a Tony on Broadway, knows when to accent the drama of a song and when to let it breathe. Her previous pop efforts were marked by generic, substandard material that never measured up to her skills; here, though, she's clearly invested in the material, and many of the vocal performances are commanding. Her cover of Lionel Richie's "Jesus Is Love" is inspirational, executed with vivid power. Most of these are ballads, the best of which resist over-orchestration and a swelling choir, allowing Headley to take the songs to another level. "I Wish" is a better ballad than Mariah Carey has recorded in years; "Zion" is measured and moving. The disc shifts from the sleek R&B of "Ordinary Me" to the bluesy "I Know the Lord Will Make a Way" to the dramatic "Running Back to You," and Headley negotiates every turn effortlessly. The centerpieces, of course, are the galvanizing full-blown gospel tunes by a singer who deserves a much larger audience. (Out now)