Jennifer Hudson, "JHUD" (RCA)
Jennifer Hudson's new album, "JHUD," would fly off the shelves if every copy included a tiny stage, complete with miniature Jennifer Hudson singing live.
Her voice — that powerful instrument capable of toppling pillars, and sending wigs into a tailspin — is what enraptured "American Idol" audiences back in 2004, and the rest of the world in 2006 with "Dreamgirls," which won Hudson an Oscar.
But three albums into Hudson's music career, the Grammy-winning star still sounds like she's singing other people's music. That is to say, while "JHUD" is solid collection of tracks, Hudson seems to be conforming to fit a sound and persona not her own.
"Daddy do, do or die, tatt my name so I know you're mine," she sings on opening track "Dangerous" — a far cry from the "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" of yore. That soulfulness takes a backseat to the tough-chick-in-love persona that drives "JHUD," rippling through the sassy "Walk It Out," featuring Timbaland, and "He Ain't Goin' Nowhere," with Iggy Azalea.
The songs are fun, admittedly, but they beg the question, "Jennifer, is that really you?"
Other tracks are more believable, and more enjoyable, too. There's the disco-tinged "It's Your World," featuring R. Kelly, and Hudson's interpretation of "I Still Love You" from British house DJ Switch.
Her vocals float effortlessly from honeyed to heavy on "Bring Back the Music," and she sets off goose bumps in a stirring tribute to her late mother on "Moan," which closes the 10-track set.
Still, there's no getting around the disappointment of an OK, but not amazing album from Hudson. Here's hoping that her next set is as unique and powerful as she is.
Follow Melanie J. Sims at twitter.com/MelanieJoySims