Mitchell: Pleasant surprise from Fantasia
Fantasia: Side Effects Of You (19/RCA)
It was 10 years ago the gangly, 18-year-old Fantasia shocked the reality TV world with her unexpected win on American Idol.
After an intervening career spotted by controversy, highly publicized misunderstandings and financial troubles, a lot of people would have written off the seemingly unlikely Fantasia by now.
But surprise, surprise, her new album, her fourth has made its debut at the No. 2 mark on the all-genre charts and No.1 on the R&B charts, held back from topping out only by the new Michael Buble release while temporarily replacing Justin Timberlake.
Fantasia doesn’t have a huge hit off Side Effects Of You but the second single, Without Me, featuring Missy Elliott and
Kelly Rowland promises to perform much better, especially now that Fantasia has proven to radio that see has an unexpected resiliency to the general buying public.
This is a solid album with lots of experimentation and consistently strong songs that nicely showcase Fantasia’s power vocals and her improved song writing skills.
Fantasia and producer/uber musician H-Money experiment in a few fields here, channelling a touch of Stevie Wonder sonics on Supernatural Love, some hip hop reggae on Ain’t All Bad and honeyed R&B balladry on Without Me.
Get It Right has a hint of Amy Winehouse retro R&B/pop while Change Your Mind is bold enough to sample Whitney Houston’s mega hit I’m Your Baby Tonight to very good effect.
A surprise return to top form for Fantasia and much better than expected.
Bobby McFerrin: Spirityouall (Sony)
On Spirityouall, Bobby McFerrin has released his first album where he explores the realm of gospel, CCM, spirituals and roots Americana while writing a few originals in the same vein.
McFerrin is still best known for his one and only hit, the a cappella Don’t Worry Be Happy from the Cocktail soundtrack a few decades ago, but he consistently wins Grammy Awards and I expect he will win one next year for this strong Christian release.
McFerrin mixes his strong beliefs with a musicological bent on these songs that come with notes to each track as well as a lengthy essay about his roots and his father’s musical influence.
There are just too many highlights on this solid CCM album, including the fine prayerful interpretation of Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and the deep Delta blues-styled Psalm 25:15 with its beautiful resonator guitar.
The opener is a gorgeous jazz-folk world beat song, Everytime, that features the amazing Esperanza Spaulding, while gospel fans will be very familiar with Whole World (‘in his hands’), Joshua (made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and Swing Low Sweet Chariot (I did not know that the chariot referred to in the song linked the underground railroad with the big dipper stars as its metaphor).
Laura Mvula: Sing To The Moon (RCA Victor)
Laura Mvula is an artist to watch with this debut album that is getting tremendous notices.
Mvula studied and then became an instructor at the U.K.’s Birmingham Music Conservatory, but more importantly she made the short list in the BBC’s Sound Of 2013—sort of like Canada’s Polaris Prize.
Her album features all original songs and most of them are in the orchestral pop realm but her orchestrations are usually subtle as opposed to the overkill that can sometimes occur when an orchestra is applied to pop/R&B/art song.
There is a freshness and quiet magnificence to Mvula’s near effortless music—that made me think of Brian Wilson producing lavish settings for Eryka Badu—especially so on the handsome Is There Anyone Out There.
Mvula sometimes uses military beats and the tintinnabulations of various bells for her rhythmics making this a pretty album on the ears, while she sometimes steps back for a very spare piano/vocal only ballad such as Father.
The only problem I hear is that while all the songs are strong, none really sticks out as an obvious single, meaning this will probably be labelled as an adult-alternative disc but the song Green Garden is a touch more radio friendly with its pop/gospel grooves.
Like I said, a talent to watch and one who is getting a lot of music biz buzz.