Even if you haven’t heard anything from her debut album, Soul of a Woman (Island), chances are you’ve heard Kelly Price. Her four years trilling behind Mariah Carey are perhaps the least impressive stint on her resume, and her hip-hop cameos–most notably on Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems”–and her songwriting and production work with acts like SWV, Aretha Franklin, Brandy, and R. Kelly have made her a significant force behind the scenes. Her own plaintive tales of love gone wrong, love going nowhere, and love conquering all are steeped in the ecstatic gospel sound of her church-choir youth, though only one song on the album, “Lord of All,” is overtly religious. Most are slow-burn ballads, but the bumping “Kiss Test” proves Price can kick it at midtempo too. The album’s hit single, “Friend of Mine,” is a tale of betrayal with a twist: the narrator’s man was sleeping with her best friend, but the song is a lament for the lost friend, not the lost lover. Corny as it sounds, it’s a bright spot of intelligence on the heavily hedonistic hip-hop and R & B landscape, and she pulls it off without sounding weak or shrill. She opens for the Isley Brothers, whose Ronald Isley signed her and lent his sultry vocals to the album’s radical remix of “Friend of Mine.” Saturday, December 26, 8 PM, Star Plaza Theatre, I-65 and U.S. 30, Merrillville, Indiana; 773-734-7266 or 312-559-1212. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Dah Len.