Sunday, July 8, 2007

Houston Chronicle Review of "Ms. Kelly"

Check this article out on the Houston Chronicle website.

This is one of the most positive reviews of Kelly Rowland's Ms. Kelly.

July 5, 2007, 9:41PM

Fan inspiration

Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland completes new CD, Ms. Kelly
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

As one-third of iconic girl group Destiny's Child, Kelly Rowland sang about being a self-sufficient diva — who still, of course, knows how to swivel her hips.

"I worked hard and sacrificed to get what I get," went the lyrics to a certain sassy Charlie's Angels tune. "Ladies, it ain't easy bein' independent."

Today, Rowland seems to have a new understanding of that girl-power credo. Her second solo disc, Ms. Kelly, arrived this week after several shuffled release dates and name changes.

"You have no idea how happy I am," Rowland said during a recent visit to Houston. She currently lives in Miami but has plans to move back "home" soon.

"It's been a journey, above anything."

Rowland, 26, began working on the project (originally dubbed My Story) in 2004. That version featured several midtempo grooves and ballads, but Rowland soon opted to punch things up with more upbeat, club-friendly tracks.

It proved to be a difficult decision.

"I think that when I had to push my CD back — although I had to do it — it still hurt, and it set me back a little bit in the studio," Rowland said.

"I had no creative ideas. I felt blank. I think it was just out of the sadness. I didn't want to disappoint my fans, but I did want it to be right.

"I probably spent a week and a half, two weeks like that, where I was just blah."

Inspiration and motivation returned, Rowland says, via fan enthusiasm and words of encouragement on blogs. She gave the disc a snappier title and officially introduced it via slinky first single Like This. The tune, featuring stylish rapper Eve, is a top-10 hit on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

"I just felt like it was very sassy and personal," Rowland says of the title. "People have started calling me that recently."

Last weekend, she showcased a few songs from Ms. Kelly, including simmering party-starter Comeback, at a pair of local events geared to the black community: Dr. Ian Smith's 50 Million Pound Challenge at Hermann Square in downtown Houston and Hip-Hop 4 HIV at Reliant Arena, which encouraged young adults to be tested for HIV/AIDS.

The Destiny's Child alum proved a comfortable solo presence and was clearly excited to finally be performing new material from the disc, which was originally supposed to hit stores last summer and was released Tuesday.

"A year and a half is a long time to record an album and basically wait," Rowland said. "It feels so good to say, 'It's really coming out on Tuesday!' It's the best feeling in the world."

The extra time proved beneficial. Ms. Kelly is a marked improvement over Rowland's 2002 solo debut, Simply Deep, which failed to showcase her flirty, assured personality. (It did, however, boast a global hit in Dilemma, a gorgeous duet with rapper Nelly.)

"This album took time for Kelly to find herself as a pop artist. I'm very proud of the record she's made," said Mathew Knowles, who manages Rowland along with his superstar daughter Beyoncé.

He also oversaw Destiny's Child, which sold more than 40 million records worldwide on the strength of such hits as Bills, Bills, Bills; Say My Name; Bootylicious; and Lose My Breath.

"I've said it before: Most people don't know just how talented each of them are individually," Knowles said.

The new disc finds Rowland exploring a variety of styles. Work is a Scott Storch-produced club thumper that begs for a tightly choreographed video. Flashback and Better Without You are standouts that recall the noirish urban grooves of Aaliyah and Brandy.

Rapper Snoop Dog cameos on the laid-back Ghetto, and R&B singer Tank duets on The Show. Solange Knowles, Beyonce's younger sister, co-wrote Love.

But it's Rowland's alternately sexy and serious delivery that anchors the disc.

"I wanted people to hear my voice," Rowland said. "I took risks on this album. ... I just let my ear lead me. It was just whatever felt good to my soul. I did it completely for me."

The mood shifts three-fourths of the way into Ms. Kelly, marked by a haunting interlude that finds her addressing a breakup — likely her own. Rowland was engaged to Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams, but the couple split in 2005.

"Was about to say 'I do' when I know it wasn't meant," Rowland sings during Still in Love With My Ex. It's an unflinching moment of honesty and one of eight tunes she co-wrote on the disc.

The writing process "was very therapeutic for me," Rowland said. "I allowed myself to be really vulnerable. I figured if it wasn't supposed to be on paper, and I wasn't supposed to record it, then it wouldn't have happened.

"Obviously, other people have these feelings as well. It's important for people to relate to you in your music and your lyrics."

Rowland's illustrious musical history has already allowed her to connect with millions of fans worldwide. And though Destiny's Child officially disbanded last year, a reunion seems imminent.

The trio was back together, briefly, during a vibrant performance at last month's BET Awards. And they're seen dancing together in Beyoncé's Get Me Bodied music video.

"I'm still trying to comprehend it, just take in everything we did," Rowland said. "I think it literally only hit me when we got our star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"I still don't believe it. It's incredible."

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