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Album review: Fantasia's 'Back to Me'

August 23, 2010 |  8:13 pm

FANTASIA_BACK_TO_240_ME  “American Idol” 2004 winner Fantasia Barrino has been in the news lately for reasons beyond the release of her third album, “Back to Me.” First, there’s the suicide attempt two weeks ago that she’ll be discussing in upcoming interviews. Then there’s the alleged relationship with a married man whose wife recently filed documents in court stating that he and Barrino began a “covert adulterous affair” in August 2009. And, to the pleasure of cutthroat Internet outlets everywhere, there’s reportedly a sex tape or two to be unearthed.

All this background makes it hard to listen to “Back to Me” without resorting to pat conclusions about Barrino’s state of mind. Of course, it’s also the case that Fantasia’s stock and trade is limning the emotional highs and lows of romance, using her throaty, expressive voice to color in the specifics.

“Back to Me” flies between lust (“Move on Me”), the crash (“The Thrill Is Gone” with Cee-Lo doing his best titillating creep), supplication (“Teach Me”), giddiness (“Trust Him”) — all of it set to accomplished though not particularly imaginative soul treatments from the likes of Ne-Yo, Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony. There is nothing here that hasn’t been heard or seen before, but it’s done with integrity and focus.

Fantasia’s best moment is probably on “Bittersweet,” smartly chosen as the album’s first single. Opening with some anguished piano and gut-socking moans, Fantasia captures the wild oscillation between pining for someone and moving on. At 26, she sounds like she’s learning what to let go of and what to keep, a long journey to be sure; on “Back to Me,” she sounds up for the task.

— Margaret Wappler

"Back to Me"
(J Records)
Three stars (Out of four)

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