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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Free

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Aug
  • COMMENTS
Free
Sounds like … a blend of R&B-flavored pop worthy of Destiny's Child, and churchy praise & worship worthy of the Clark sisters or Witness. At a glance … this album allows the group to showcase their strengths and distinctive sound. Although there are a few take- it-or-leave-it tracks, it's worth listening to, for the praise & worship songs alone.

Virtue is probably the most versatile of the modern crop of gospel girl-groups that hit the Christian music scene during the last 10 years. Like contemporaries Trin-i-tee 5:7 and Mary Mary, they've recorded some excellent ballads (think "You've Been Merciful" from Virtuosity! , "Love Me Like You Do" from Get Ready! , or "Greatest Part of Me" from their 1997 debut Virtue). They've also dabbled a bit in R&B-flavored dance-pop á la Out of Eden (think "He's Been Good" and "Something About the Way" from Virtuosity! ). What sets this trio apart is their ability to combine these elements with an unmistakably church-rooted sound. While you're likely to bump the others in your car on the way to choir rehearsal, the members of Virtue—sisters Ebony Trotter Holland, Karima Trotter Kibble and Heather Trotter—also record songs you're likely to sing once you get there. Each album consistently highlights their stunning vocal blend and polish.

This diversity of sounds is a key strength of Free , which follows 2001's Stellar-nominated Virtuosity! It's a blend of stomach-thumping, bass-heavy songs, laid-back R&#038B, and emotive praise-and-worship music. The album opens with the hard-driving, danceable "Only God's in This," a Destiny's Child-worthy number that encourages Christians to enjoy the R&B sound without embracing the negative lifestyles some lyrics promote: "something with some bump that don't offend you." Other lyrics include: "This ain't 'bout no relationships/Not the kinda party that be poppin' cris/ All that bling bling, just leave it where it is/Only God's in this." The title track, written by Virtue, is about freedom from others' expectations through a relationship with Christ.

In my opinion, the strongest tracks on Free are the ones contributed by respected writer/producer Alex "Asaph" Ward. These churchy, praise-and-worship cuts really showcase Virtue's vocal agility and expressive depth. Frankly, this is what they do better than any of the other gospel girl-groups currently out there—there's just no comparison, and they haven't received the recognition they deserve for it. (Check out Kevin Bond's arrangement of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" on Virtuosity! for more.)

"Lord, I Lift My Hands" features lush harmony and steady keys from Ward and David Blakely on organ. This song really gives each sister a chance to display the full-bodied, sweet-but-strong quality of her voice. "Worthy" uses lyrics from the Psalms, and has a strong dramatic chorus. Percussion here is confident, accenting rather than overwhelming the vocalists. "Open Arms" has a sensitive, gentle tone with compelling lyrics and a jazzy vamp. Lyrics include: "My child, please come home/I'm waiting for you/ I feel your pain/I want to comfort you/I know you think that it's too late to come home/No, I'll welcome you home." And "There's Nothing Else I Can Do" features crisp phrasing reminiscent of the Clark sisters.

Other strong tracks on this album include the PAJAM-produced "You'll Win if You Try," and "Thankful," which has a gentler, more adult-contemporary feel that showcases the talent without overproducing it. "You Just Be You" has an acoustic, "unplugged" sensibility lent by Paul Jackson Jr. on guitar. It's preceded by a sweet interlude between Heather and 8-year-old Chloe Kibble.

"Healin'" is a fun, high-energy track that describes God's provision for the weary-hearted. Unfortunately, it's followed by "Jesus Paid the Ransom," a song with a similarly heavy bass-percussion feel. Both songs are fine (and by the same writer), but they probably shouldn't be right next to each other on the same album. "He's Able" and "Everything Will Be All Right" share the lyrical theme of God's ability to strengthen us in discouraging times. But "He's Able," though danceable, feels like one long cliché, from intro vocals by PAJAM (which was cool the first few times, but …), to the synth voice and string background track. And "Everything Will Be All Right" also has a dated, repetitive feel.

Free is worth the cost for the praise-and-worship tracks alone. And though there are a few take-it-or-leave-it songs (mostly due to production choices rather than lyrics or vocals), this is overall a strong album from a maturing group of classy, gifted vocalists.


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