Does almost every female RnB Soul album have to include one overblown, overproduced track in which the husky woman promises to take care of the man, run him a bath after a long day, and basically behave like a creepy combination of a maid, a prostitute, and a 50s housewife? Apparently, yes. There's one on Fantasia's new album - I'm talking about the revolting "Don't Act Right". But the album's not all bad. In fact the first tracks may pleasantly surprise you. The first course helping of solid songs, and the good vocals on Free Yourself are even more surprising given that this performer is a product of American Idol.
And the cover doesn't help. When you first look at the CD, you'd easily be forgiving at first for assuming this was actually a porn DVD. The cover shows Fantasia naked underneath a silver sheepskin coat, with her name in purple neon lights, and the album title in tasteless white neon lettering.
Fantasia has a beautiful voice. Think early Indie Arie with a bit more brass and plenty jazz. And she's working with the best, most notably Missy Elliot, who wrote the title track as well as many of the strong songs on the CD. Elliot's sometimes gruesomely explicit sass is softened by Fantasia's less graphic persona, and the result is a sweeter but still genuinely sexed up sound, simple but catchy rhythms, and unusually good - if too straightforward - lyrics that go beyond the usual love song paradigm. Some deal positively with teenage pregnancy ("Baby Mama") and others with not forgetting where you came from ("This is me").
Her cover of Gershwin's "Summertime" is one of the sexiest on a perpetually "Summertime"-covers-saturated market.
Sadly, it seems that the overblown gospel-inspired vocals of the 80s circa Whitney Houston's glory days are back to ruin what could be good songs, with repetitive choruses of screaming women rising in volume. The last third of the album is padded with too many of these.
- Jean Barker
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
The "Free Yourself" CD radiates confidence, soul, and a sort of street vibe that just can't be manufactured by a slick public relations campaign. Only a sista who has lived the life can produce the kind of confident pop realism that draws its listeners into the album.- DJ J.J. for urbansoulnation.com
"...breaks the mold and delivers a very respectable R&B record in her first attempt. One of the main reasons it succeeds is that she does not rely on her own talent to get the job done.- Chris Carle for ING insider
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