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Sounds like … slickly produced Christian dance pop (along the lines of Avalon or Plus One), with hints of inspirational (think 4Him or Greg Long) and Latin (a la Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias)At a Glance … a well-made dance-pop album, though the Christian industry could use more Latin pop and less of the usual dance pop.
In case you haven't heard the buzz surrounding Freddie Colloca, the young vocalist has been dubbed by many "the Ricky Martin of Christian music." Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Freddie grew up in a Christian and musical family. His father was part of a popular Latin Christian folk group, eventually becoming a pastor and assuming a leadership role in Miami, Florida. Growing up in a culture equally influenced by Top-40 radio as Latin music, Freddie began playing keyboards with his church worship band as a teenager, eventually becoming worship leader at age 15. Planning to pursue a career in ministry like his father, he earned a Bible college degree through Trinity International University and also studied music for a year at The Center of Musical Dynamics in Mexico City (under the guidance of worship-leader Marcos Witt). Armed with musical and biblical knowledge, Freddie released two independent recordings during college, gradually earning an audience in the Miami area and a record contract with One Voice Records. His third album, Mas que Un Sentimiento (re-titled Dance el Ritmo for the English release), earned him a Dove-award nomination and a chance to perform at the awards ceremony, where he caught the attention of many. Freddie seems poised to capture the full attention of the Christian music community with his latest release, Unconditional.
Dance el Ritmo certainly has its moments, but it suffers from some dated-sounding songs and occasionally sub-par production. Unconditional is a vast improvement in terms of production. This is the album that puts Freddie in the big leagues. As far as Christian dance pop goes, this is as good as anything you've heard in the genre. Featuring the talents of producers Hal Batt (Ricky Martin, Shakira) and Don Koch (4Him, NewSong, Greg Long), this album has the same kind of high-energy glossy pop you've come to expect from 4Him and Avalon. "Savior My Savior" in particular pulses along with slick programming reminiscent of recent Avalon hits such as "Make It Last Forever," and it features the ever-popular electronic vocal warble made popular by Cher's "Believe." You'll find a similar high-energy dance-pop sound on "Surrounded," "Me Libero," "Song of my Heart," … well, on just about every track on the album. The exceptions are the few power ballads, such as "Close" and "Just When I Needed You Most," which predictably contain all the right elements — programmed drums, sweeping strings, and soft keyboard effects.
One glance at the resume of Don Koch, who oversaw 6 of the 10 songs, will tell you exactly what the album sounds like. In many ways, the music is interchangeable with anything you've heard by 4Him, NewSong, Avalon, Greg Long, Rachael Lampa, … take your pick. Is this Latin pop? Yes and no. On the Don Koch-produced tracks, apparently you only need to throw in a little bit of Spanish guitar to be classified as such. There's a particularly beautiful Spanish guitar solo on "Surrounded," but for the most part you've heard the same sort of "Latin pop" from other Christian artists attempting to imitate the genre. The four tracks produced by Hal Batt fare a little better, demonstrating a slightly more authentic and sophisticated flavor of Latin-influenced pop. "Song of my Heart" is a successful blend of rhythmic Spanish guitars, a dance-club beat, and a Latin-sounding melody. The standout track on the album is the first song, "Unconditional Love," on which Hal and Freddie pull out all the stops — thick drum programming, Latin percussion, an aggressive electronic bass line, punchy brass, and big vocals. Of all the songs, this one sounds the most like something Ricky Martin or Marc Anthony could perform. Surprisingly, Hal Batt also produced "Just When I Needed You Most," a sweeping inspirational ballad that's probably the least Latin-sounding track on the album.
Unconditional is a predictable album, but it's also well made — perhaps the equivalent of a big summer blockbuster. Freddie contributes to the songwriting of 3 of the album's 10 songs, all of which communicate their simple inspirational messages of faith and God's love for us within the title. "Instead of Me" obviously is about how Christ took our place on the cross, "Unconditional Love" describes God's love for us, "Me Libero" translates to "He Liberated Me" … get the idea? No doubt, a big part of Freddie's appeal as an artist are his charisma, stage presence, dance moves, and of course his ability to minister to the audience. On the album there's nothing to measure Freddie by beyond his voice (and the three songs he helped write). Don't get me wrong, this album won't disappoint you if you're looking for glossy, well-produced pop with a beat you can dance to and a message that will inspire your heart. It's just been done before to similar effect numerous times in the last 10 years. As far as Latin-pop goes, this album's seasoning is strictly mild rather than hot-and-spicy.