Free Yourself

Free Yourself

4.6 46
by Fantasia

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Third-season American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino wowed both the series' fans and jaded judges with her gospel-rooted vocal histrionics. But like previous AI winners Kelly and Ruben, Fantasia -- clearly the most charismatic of the three -- has a hard time translating her infectious stage presence onto her debut disc (surprisingly, even her showstoppingSee more details below


Third-season American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino wowed both the series' fans and jaded judges with her gospel-rooted vocal histrionics. But like previous AI winners Kelly and Ruben, Fantasia -- clearly the most charismatic of the three -- has a hard time translating her infectious stage presence onto her debut disc (surprisingly, even her showstopping rendition of the Gershwins' "Summertime" falls flat here). That said, Free Yourself is still more polished than any other Idol's first record, thanks to urban hitmakers Missy Elliott, Jermaine Dupri, and Rodney Jerkins. Although Fantasia's nasal timbre often recalls Macy Gray, her vocal range is far superior to Gray's; a more accurate comparison might be made to Mary J. Blige, most notably on the Missy-assisted "Good Lovin'." Like Blige, Fantasia is a round-the-way girl with a voice informed by adversity, and she makes sure listeners are aware of just how much she's struggled -- from growing up in the ghetto (the Brandy-reminiscent "This Is Me") to dealing with triflin' beaus (the kiss-off title track) and unrequited love ("Truth Is"). The album's biggest misstep (other than misprinted track listings), however, is Fantasia's loud-and-proud proclamation of being a "Baby Mama." Still, there's enough good material here for Fantasia's fans to fawn over, and plenty of promise for a career to be revered.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
"Love you Clive Davis, thanks for being so gangsta!" So says Fantasia Barrino -- now simply billed as "Fantasia" since divas are, by law, not allowed to have more than one name -- in the liner notes for her 2004 debut album, Free Yourself. This indicates both Barrino's relative naïveté and the nature of Free Yourself itself. Fantasia was the winner of the third American Idol competition in 2004, and while Clive Davis has shepherded all of the previous AmIdol winners and runner-ups, it's possible that Barrino had spent so little time in the music biz that she didn't grasp the depths of either Davis' legacy or his savvy, the latter of which was clearly on display on each AmIdol record. Under Davis' direction, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Ruben Studdard, and Clay Aiken all made records tailored for a specific audience, which is the reason they all had great success (well, with one notable exception), so it should come as no surprise that Davis has steered Barrino straight to the streets to make an album that thrives on urban R&B inflections and style. Free Yourself is looser and hipper than any previous AmIdol album. Gone is Matthew Wilder, who contributed to Kelly's debut; gone are Neil Sedaka and Aldo Nova, who featured heavily on Clay's album. In their place are Missy Elliott, Jermaine Dupri, and Rodney Jerkins, hip-hop hitmakers who give a good indication that this album is striving to seem fresh and hip, something that no other American Idol album has even attempted. Of course, the show-biz trappings haven't been completely abandoned -- Fantasia's showstopping rendition of Gershwin's "Summertime" has been revived, and it's been given an overwrought treatment that's slicker and more mannered than either of her performances of it on the show. And that reveals Fantasia's biggest weakness, which is part of the inherent flaw of American Idol: it rewards contestants who put on a show of being a great singer instead of actually being a great singer. Of all the third-season contestants, Barrino trumped all her competitors in terms of sheer dramatics and histrionics, and that made her more memorable than equally talented singers such as Latoya London. While Fantasia's Macy Gray-meets-Mary J. Blige-and-goes-Broadway voice may have made for great television, where it sounded unique when delivered in two-to-three-minute bursts, it grates over the course of a 13-track record. There's no doubt that she has chops, but the problem is her thin timbre, which is an acquired taste. To doubters, she seems to squawk her songs as much as sing them, but to her fans, it's all part of her idiosyncratic style. That argument was easier to accept when she was only on TV, but like all AmIdol winners, she is less impressive on record than she is on the show. Fantasia is a compelling presence on television, and she has more charisma on record than any of her peers, but without the visuals, her vocals seem mannered and overly histrionic, which may suit her diva-in-waiting persona but doesn't necessarily make her a diva. Unfortunately, Free Yourself decides to play up that diva fantasy, mythologizing her downtrodden beginnings and status as a "Baby Mama" and throwing in several tracks that swagger as if she were already a rival to Mariah. This gives the enterprise a slightly distasteful undercurrent, but the album is well crafted, rarely sounding like a rush job -- only the covers of "Summertime" and "You Were Always on My Mind" sound chintzy, and Fantasia never sounds winded the way Ruben did on his record (however, it is inexcusable that the songs don't match the printed track listing on the initial pressings) -- and it gets by on its sound and style, both from the producers and Fantasia herself. If it delivers no knockout punches, at least it maintains the mood and groove from beginning to end and is considerably more fashionable than anything American Idol has yet produced.

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Product Details

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Fantasia   Primary Artist,Vocals
Gerald Albright   Saxophone
Maxi Anderson   Choir, Chorus
Louis Biancaniello   Keyboards
Debra Byrd   Choir, Chorus
Darius Campo   Violin
Larry Corbett   Cello
Joel Derouin   Violin
Kevin Dorsey   Choir, Chorus
Armen Garabedian   Violin
Berj Garabedian   Violin
Darlene Koldenhoven   Choir, Chorus
Bobbi Page   Choir, Chorus
Greg Phillinganes   Piano
Melanie Taylor   Choir, Chorus
Yvonne Williams   Choir, Chorus
Evan Wilson   Viola
John Wittenberg   Violin
Terry Wood   Choir, Chorus
Craig Brockman   Keyboards
Eric Dawkins   Background Vocals
Bob Peterson   Violin
Sam Watters   Background Vocals
Missy Elliott   Background Vocals
Jazze Pha   Rap
Natalie Leggett   Violin
Tony Wilkins   Choir, Chorus
Charles Pettaway   Guitar
Deborah Sharpe-Taylor   Choir, Chorus
Sara Parkins   Violin
Angela Fisher   Choir, Chorus
Lil' Steve   Background Vocals
Laurence Greenfield   Violin
Julian Hallmark   Violin
Nisan Stewart   Drums
Eric "Ebo" Butler   Choir, Chorus
Tank   Various
Dan Smith   Cello
Nicholas Cooper   Choir, Chorus
Alyssa Park   Violin
Tamyra Gray   Background Vocals
Byron Motley   Choir, Chorus
Allison Lilly   Background Vocals
Jazmine Sullivan   Background Vocals
Mario de León   Violin
Matthew Funes   Viola
Underdogs   Various

Technical Credits

Barbara Acklin   Composer
Ernie Isley   Composer
Eugene Record   Composer
Mark James   Composer
Phalon Alexander   Composer
Louis Biancaniello   Arranger,Composer,Programming,Producer
David Campbell   String Arrangements,String Conductor
Johnny Christopher   Composer
Steve Churchyard   Engineer
Jermaine Dupri   Composer,Producer
Ira Gershwin   Composer
Ross Hogarth   Engineer
Marvin Isley   Composer
O'Kelly Isley   Composer
Ronald Isley   Composer
Bill Malina   Engineer
Yolanda McCullough   Engineer,Digital Editing
Tom Ranier   Orchestration
Brian Scheuble   Engineer
Robin Sellars   Engineer
Soulshock   Arranger,Producer,Instrumentation
Nigel Wright   Producer
Karlin   Arranger,Producer,Instrumentation
Craig Brockman   Composer,Producer
Rodney Jerkins   Composer,Producer
Damon Thomas   Composer
Sam Watters   Arranger,Composer,Producer
Missy Elliott   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Jazze Pha   Producer
DuBose Heyward   Composer
Charles Pettaway   Composer
Wayne Thompson   Composer
Ricky Lewis   Composer
Harvey Mason   Composer
Carsten Schack   Composer
John Horesco   Engineer
Johnta Austin   Composer
Alexis Yraola   Art Direction
Kamel Abdo   Engineer
Vito Colapietro   Composer
Neely Dinkins   Composer
Zachary Wallace   Composer
Ric Rude   Producer
Bryan-Michael Cox   Composer,Producer
Charile "CSUN" Bereal   drum programming
Harold Lilly   Composer,Producer
Dabling Harward   Engineer
Alex Cantrall   Composer
Chris LeBeau   Artwork
Nico Solis   Engineer
Antonio Dixon   Composer
Tamyra Gray   Composer
Carlos "El Loco" Bedoya   Programming,Engineer
Sean Garrett   Composer,Producer,Engineer,Vocal Producer
Soulshock & Karlin   Audio Production
Underdogs   Producer,Audio Production,Instrumentation

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