In her sister's shadow no more
Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (Geffen)
ESSENTIAL "I Decided Part 1"
When she made her tepid debut five years ago, Solange Knowles clearly wasn't ready for the big leagues. But Beyonce's sister sure is now. This is such a smartly executed, classy set of songs that's miles away from the hoochie pop being turned out by young female R&B vocalists these days. Solange is confident and in command throughout, and she sings with commitment and sass on "Valentine's Day" and the Mark Ronson-produced "Six o'clock Blues." The set has an organic throwback vibe that evokes classic Motown and '70s soul while remaining firmly contemporary. She summons up the Supremes, among others, on the swinging "T.O.N.Y." and on the killer "I Decided Part I" (with none of the Neptunes' typical production tics). In fact, the production is sweetly clean and brisk. The songs are about love and finding a sense of self, which makes sense for a sibling of one of the biz's biggest stars. As long as she keeps things flowing and upbeat, things hum and only the two gauzy ballads (including a duet with the undervalued Bilal on "Cosmic Journey") miss the mark. There's no way after this that Solange won't be taken on her own terms because this sister can sing. [Ken Capobianco]