In 2006 Fantasia’s self-titled sophomore album received generally mixed reviews from critics and even less favourable responses from her fans. The record barely managed to achieve gold status in the US; a far cry from the 1.8 million units that the Grammy-nominated singer’s debut album, ‘Free Yourself’, sold in that territory.
Now, amidst public controversy and personal turmoil, Fantasia is back with a new album, aptly entitled ‘Back to Me’, which features a true return to form by the uniquely talented R&B singer. On this 13-track LP Fantasia manages to combine the raw passion of her Soul influences with her spine-tingling vocals and contemporary productions, creating one of the best releases of the year to date.
‘Back to Me’ gets underway with the motivational track ‘I’m Doin’ Me’ – a song that Fantasia herself should probably listen to at this very moment in her life. Produced by Chuck Harmony, the song features the singer making a bold statement about self-worth to a lover who does nothing but hold her back. Boasting a similar message to one of her earlier hits – ‘Free Yourself’ – this track is brought to life by Fantasia’s soulful conviction and clever vocal arrangements, making it a fine choice as the opening number on the album. Nevertheless, ‘I’m Doin’ Me’ stands as only one of the many brilliant songs on the LP which is almost devoid fillers.
From the raw passion of the lead single, ‘Bittersweet’, to the inspirational ‘Even Angels’, Fantasia applies her raspy vocals to ingenious melodies and grand productions without becoming lost in the shuffle. Even on the incredibly busy ‘Move on Me’ – which was once in the running to be the album’s 1st single – Fantasia’s voice shines through amongst the thick productions and lavish horn sections; providing one of the best uptempo R&B songs created this side of the new millennium.
However, without a doubt, the standout track of the record is ‘Collard Greens & Cornbread’. Framed by a melody reminiscent of the material found on Aretha Franklin’s classic ‘Lady Soul’ LP, this is the track where Fantasia displays her skill as a Soul singer; utilising gritty vocal runs and powerful belts while gliding seamlessly through her range without missing a beat. Lyrically, the song proves to be one that probably only Fantasia could get away with singing in the year 2010 – “…I even got the nerve to say that you’re better than my mama’s collard greens and cornbread”.
The only instances where Fantasia fumbles the ball are when she tries to reach for a more radio-friendly sound. ‘Man of The House’, ‘Falling in Love Tonight’ and ‘Who’s Been Lovin’ You’ are solid singles choices but seem to have substituted Fantasia’s usual grit and energy in an effort to capture a more crossover appeal.
Still, songs such as ‘Trust Him’ and the haunting ‘The Thrill Is Gone (Ft. Cee-Lo)’ more than compensate for shortcomings of the aforementioned tracks. Furthermore, with the Lauryn Hill/Bob Marley-flavoured ‘Teach Me’ and the grand vocal performances of ‘I’m Here’ and ‘The Worst Is Over’ on the album, any such missteps are quickly forgotten.
When it is all said and done, ‘Back to Me’ proves to be the best body of work that Fantasia has ever put forward. Passionate, convincing, honest and powerful, the album captures the elements of everything that R&B music has been missing in recent years. Whether the general public will be able to look past her personal problems and embrace this record remains to be seen but one thing is certain: this album is better than my mama’s collard greens and cornbread.
That Grape Juice Rating: 4.5/5 stars
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