Four years after her eponymous sophomore effort, singer Fantasia rewards her patient loyalists with Back To Me, a solid, richly entertaining third studio release that walks the line between sublime, contemporary R&B and insistent, guttural soul.
The release comes amidst gravely personal concerns for the American Idol alum, who very recently made headlines for a confessed suicide attempt, reportedly the result of stress over rumors of an adulterous affair with a married man. By all accounts the media maelstrom (which conveniently coincided with the week of the album’s release) seems to have boosted sales of Back To Me, securing Fantasia the biggest debut of her career (with over 117,000 copies sold in the first week) and a place atop the R&B album charts.
As far as the new album goes, Fantasia makes it clear that her innate gifts as a vocalist are still very much intact. In fact, her vocals on Back To Me are never less than stirring, as she caresses gorgeous, soulful melodies and bouncy grooves, made all the more compelling thanks to laudable production work from such hitmakers as Claude Kelly, Chuck Harmony and ace singer-songwriter Ne-Yo, R&B’s modern-day miracle worker.
“Bittersweet” is a stellar highlight, on which Fantasia considers walking away from a disconcerting relationship, wisely choosing passion over pride. This streak of fierce independence is also felt on cuts like the sass-laden “Man of the House” and the deceptively smooth album opener, “I’m Doin’ Me.” As on her previous albums, a sizable portion of Back To Me deals unremittingly with intimate relationships – particularly the cycle of finding love, losing it and wanting it back – but Fantasia’s zeal for her material has never been this wholehearted and fervent.
For proof look no further than “Teach Me,” a tightly wound single that bears traces of reggae and dub, and the curiously, albeit mouthwateringly titled “Collard Greens and Cornbread,” a simmering bedroom jam. Cee-Lo Green guests on the album’s sole duet, “The Thrill is Gone,” an irrefutable sizzler from producers Malay & KP, who also contribute to the heat-packing “Move On Me.”
While these latter cuts are not exactly low points, Fantasia is more luminous on standouts like “Even Angels,” a beautiful, soaring ballad, which first captivated listeners when it premiered on her VH1 reality show (Fantasia For Real) earlier this year, and the show-stopping “I’m Here,” her signature bring-them-to-their-feet number from the acclaimed Broadway production of The Color Purple.
In short, admirable singing and sure-footed production drive Fantasia’s latest. It’s an emotionally resonant 12-track release, probably her best collection to date, that (once again) serves as a winning showcase for her voice, a stunning instrument that has lost neither its luster nor its capacity to thrill and keep listeners riveted.
DOWNLOAD: “Even Angels,” “Man of the House” and “Bittersweet”