Whitney Houston, "I Look to You"
The imminent release of Whitney Houston's "I Look to You" (her first studio album in seven years) keeps prompting the elephant-in-the-room question: How does she sound? Well, Houston turns in a solid performance on this 11-track set. And it underscores her still-considerable gift for delivering the emotion in a song, which is especially showcased on the title track/lead single. While Houston may not top her iconic performance of "I Will Always Love You," she more than holds her own on this R. Kelly-penned ballad about finding strength in the face of adversity. She gets her party swerve going on the album's standout cut about appreciating a significant other, "Million Dollar Bill," produced by Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. Another keeper is the midtempo, relationship-themed "Like I Never Left" featuring Akon. Primarily comprising up- and midtempo selections-including an amped-up cover of Leon Russell's "A Song for You"-"I Look to You" finds Houston channeling the self-assured singer she exhibited on 1998's "My Love Is Your Love." The set is a nice welcome back and a new beginning for the singer. --Gail Mitchell