Chrisette Michele, ‘Better’

Since 2010’s “Let Freedom Reign” Michele has undergone a lifestyle and appearance makeover, but her commanding vocals and savvy song sense remain intact on her fine new disc. Michele is one of the most expressive, technically adept singers in pop, and she’s particularly engaged on these tracks, which chart the journey to self realization and genuine love. Besides the breezy “Can the Cool Be Loved,” some of the jazzy influence of her first two records has mostly disappeared, but her fluid vocals and phrasing infuse each lyric with an unmatched depth. The set is filled with soul ballads and mid-tempo tracks. She effortlessly shifts from the sensuous yearning of “A Couple of Forevers” to a popping takedown of haughty poseurs (“Rich Hipster”) to deep introspection (“Better”) without losing balance. The appearance of a slack 2 Chainz on “Charades” makes sense commercially but is an aesthetic mistake. Michele is beginning to separate herself from her peers. Forget better and think best. (Out Tuesday)

Ken Capobianco

ESSENTIAL “Can the Cool Be Loved”