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FANTASIA 2010 CD REVIEW
BY K. BONIN COPYRIGHT (C) 2010 BY K. BONIN/SOUL MUSIC.COM
Fantasia: Back to Me (J Records/RCA Music Group)

Like her labelmate Monica, Fantasia’s return to the music scene has been captured in her VH1/Centric TV reality series, “Fantasia: For Real”. In a previous SoulMusic.com feature, we looked at the impact that reality series were having on the marketing strategies of Fantasia's and Monica’s new albums. Monica’s reality series, "Still Standing" proved to be quite advantageous as she is enjoying her biggest hit in years with the #1 single, “Everything to Me”, and with a second single, "Love All Over Me", looking to duplicate the success of its predecessor. Both are from her gold-certified album, ‘Still Standing’.

The trajectory of Fantasia’s reality series has not been as smooth. Not unlike Monica’s previous project, Fantasia’s sophomore, self-titled J Records album, failed to match the success of her debut, ‘Free Yourself’. Despite garnering a #1 single, ‘Fantasia’ sold over 600,000 albums. However, ‘Free Yourself’ was certified double platinum and posted two #1 R&B singles.

The reality series focused on the recording process for Fantasia’s recently-released album. As we follow Fantasia’s pursuit of great songs and strong producers, fans are able to witness firsthand that assembling a great album is not an easy process. Fantasia’s work with her J Records A&R rep, Keith Naftaly, proves to be an intense effort as they go through a long list of songs.

While recording her current album, Fantasia also returned to the stage with the road show for ‘The Color Purple’. That lofty association offered the opportunity for one of ‘The Color Purple’s producers, Oprah, to feature Fantasia on an episode of her highly rated talk show. She performed a new song, “Even Angels” on the episode as she also discussed the difficulties she had in remaining committed to the grueling 6-day-a-week performing schedule required for a Broadway musical. “Even Angels” was released as a digital download in support of her performance. The ‘Oprah’ show is still the highest rated daytime show, pulling in 6-7 million viewers daily. Despite this solid audience reach, “Even Angels” failed to chart on the iTunes singles chart. An ‘Oprah’ appearance is usually the centerpiece of the launch of any new project. However, J Records claimed that this single was only meant to placate Fantasia’s fanbase in support of her appearance. Despite what was meant, it looked as if the lack of reaction to “Even Angels” forced the label to return to the drawing board. ("Even Angels" is included on ‘Back to Me’).

Several of the songs on ‘Back to Me’ indicate that this is a very personal album for Fantasia. The album opens up with the life-affirming, "I'm Doing Me", a mid tempo song about sourcing her independence. It is clear that Fantasia is still on a journey of self-discovery if one is to take the lyrics she sings as a reflection of what is present for her. It looks like it was a wise decision to go back to the drawing board, as the current single, “Bittersweet” just recently hit the upper reaches of the Urban Adult playlist. The digital download currently sits just outside of the Top Ten on iTunes R&B chart, and the album's first day sales were strong enough to hit #1 on iTunes R&B album chart and Amazon's R&B album chart. It is said that some of the most successful songs/albums are written from real life experiences. Ironically, Fantasia finds herself currently embroiled in an emotional love relationship with a married man. That relationship is filled with drama and does not appear to be a positive in her personal life. It gives her new single, “Bittersweet” even more relevance. "Bittersweet" is a classic "love gone wrong" type of ballad. Fantasia sings it with a lot of conviction.

On "Collard Greens & Cornbread", she samples the Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell classic, “Your Precious Love”, which was penned by legendary songwriters Ashford & Simpson. Even years after sampling has become an accepted music practice, it is still jarring to hear a familiar music sample with unfamiliar lyrics. And sorry Fantasia, "Your Precious Love" was always a classy, romantic song. Her song works lyrically, until the chorus, when she correlates the art of love-making with something that is reminiscent of her momma's "Collard Greens & Cornbread". I guess that's what you call the kind of old school love-making that one can only get at home. But to take a healthy sampling of a treasured-love song and turn it into a culinary experience is a fairly tall order. Also, it is clear that the input of her A&R rep was essential. On the reality series, "Fantasia: For Real", Fantasia was adamant that "Move on Me", an album track, was just the smash single that the project needed. Though it is not a bad song, it certainly doesn't spark the level of excitement she expressed. In fact, it stands as a good album track at best, certainly not the indisputable hit that Fantasia thought it should be.

All in all, this is a solid album that will more than satisfy her fan base. While "Even Angels", the song she sang on ‘Oprah’, may leave her urban audience a little confused, there are several radio-ready singles that should more than fill the bill. Also included is, "I'm Here", her moving show stopper from the Broadway musical, ‘The Color Purple’. She delivers a performance worthy of a standing ovation. And while ‘Back to Me’ doesn't always reach such heights, it is good to hear Fantasia back in good form.

RATING: 7

K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry. Kirk can be contacted via email at bokiluis@gmail.com

About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.
  
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