Once Alyson Williams seemed doomed to a dorsal career: Through the years she sang backup for Whodini, Kurtis Blow and Gang of Four. She's also been cast as a duet partner with Def Jam label-mates Oran "Juice" Jones and Tashan. But with last year's release of her own debut album, "Raw," Williams has finally secured her own spotlight.
Judging from her show Tuesday night at Blues Alley, Williams belongs front and center. A smoky-voiced singer with an impressive range, she displayed her mastery of a variety of styles. A few unspectacular pop chart tunes were appealing enough, but failed to show off her ability. Still, her set was filled with standouts, including a gorgeous tribute to Sarah Vaughan that drifted in and out of jazzy improvisations, a gospel-fired "Take Me to the River" and some no-holds-barred good-time blues. Occasionally, Williams's vocal antics were reminiscent of Patti LaBelle, but she's not prone to La Patti's protracted indulgent warbling.
Stylish and charismatic, Williams also proved herself to be a live wire. She cracked smarty-skirt remarks on the variations of love and smiled while she busted out the thoughtless patron who puffed cigarette smoke in her face. Williams performs at Blues Alley through Sunday.