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Free Yourself winds up disappointing

Broderick Henry | Thursday, December 2, 2004

Fantasia Barrino proved to be an amazing live performer. Armed with the vocal stylings of a woman far greater in age and life experiences, the American Idol winner delivered some of the best musical displays in the three-year history of the television contest. As a result of such performances Fantasia has drawn a number of comparisons to R&B soul diva Mary J. Blige. Some have even crowned her the new face of R&B. Yet, there still remains one question surrounding Barrino: are audiences really interested in hearing her sing? If record sales of Fantasia’s first single, “I Believe,” are any indicator then the answer is no. In its first week of release the song sold 142, 000 copies which is pale in comparison to the sales of the first Idol winner Kelly Clarkson or even last year’s Idol runner-up Clay Aiken. Many critics assert the poor reception of “I Believe” can be directly attributed to Fantasia’s over singing. Both onstage and while recording she has the tendency to scream and shout notes rather than actually sing them. Although television audiences may have been able to stomach and even enjoy the two-minute outbursts, it remains to be seen whether record buyers have the wherewithal to listen to the same outbursts in heavy rotation. Yet, with her debut album, “Free Yourself,” Fantasia does little to quiet the critics. The 13-track album, which is relatively short by R&B standards, suffers from a number of debilitating ailments. Most noticeably, Barrino, without fail, sings every song in the shrillest yet raspy octave imaginable. But the shouting is often to the detriment of the songs. For the antics provide neither soul nor inspiration, but rather distractions for listeners. In order to compensate for Barrino’s shortcomings, Clive Davis, the album’s executive producer must have had one intention – appeal to as many segments of music buyers as possible. Therefore any producer who has made a hit record in the last fives years was invited to assist on the project. Missy Elliott, Jermaine Dupri, and Rodney Jerkins all lend a helping hand to the album. Yet, with so many cooks preparing the meal, “Free Yourself,” just ends up sounding like a compilation. I doubt the Gershwin Broadway classic “Summertime” juxtaposed to “Baby Mama”, a song saluting young single mothers, will rest well with most listeners. For their sake the album should be renamed, “Now! Songs That Will Never Sound Good Together.”Even with its many missteps “Free Yourself” does have a couple of standout tracks. One track in particular, “Good Lovin'” finds Barrino praising the love she receives daily from her “man”: “What a sunny, sunny morning/ when my man is right by my side/Held me so closely so close I felt love inside.” The aforementioned Elliot even finds a way to mildly contain the Idol star’s wailing. Accompanied by a bass-heavy track, the song sounds like a 70s classic. Overall, “Good Lovin'” illustrates the greatest disappointment surrounding Fantasia. It is obvious she has a great deal of talent. But it appears she is more intent on relaying her vocal prowess rather than delivering beautiful occasionally well-written songs in the manner in which they were intended. Luckily, much has been invested in the young star, and she will definitely get the chance to make another album. Let us hope Fantasia matures in the art of singing before she embarks on that endeavor. In the meantime, free yourself from the disappointment and leave this album on the shelf.