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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Ronnie Freeman

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 May
Ronnie Freeman
Sounds like … simple, piano-based contemporary pop with splashes of dance and jazz influences thrown in the mix. At a Glance … Freeman fits in the same category as artists such as Paul Alan, Wes King, Wayne Watson, Truth, and, at times, Avalon.

Ronnie Freeman is a new voice in contemporary pop and inspirational circles. The 28 year old has been playing piano since the age of 7, pursuing music all through his childhood and teen years at church and school. Upon graduating in 1995 from Southeastern College in Lakeland, Florida, Freeman returned to his home of Montgomery, Alabama, for a position as a music minister and choir director. Although Freeman found his time on the church's stage very fulfilling, he wanted to extend his boundaries and have the chance to spread his music and message to additional audiences. After struggling to get big break in the Nashville music community during the late '90s, Freeman earned one of the best supporters possible in the form of Michael W. Smith, who personally signed Freeman to Rocketown Records. "Ronnie Freeman reminds me of me a decade ago," Smith said. "He's passionate, devoted to his family, and has a real gift when it comes to the piano and songwriting. I think his voice is one the church will really want to hear."

There's no doubt that Freeman has a clear and pleasant voice and that his piano-driven pop sounds are inviting. But comparing his self-titled debut album to Smitty ten years ago doesn't quite strike me as accurate. Fans may recall Michael W. Smith's Change Your World released at that time, known for its beautifully orchestrated ballads "I Will Be Here For You" and "Somebody Love Me," along with its slick pop/rock arrangements ("Picture Perfect," "Cross of Gold"). Freeman's sounds aren't nearly big enough to fill arenas and stadiums as Smith did on that tour, nor is his songwriting as solid as that of his mentor. Then again, it's unfair to compare anyone to Smith, one of the most revered artists in Christian music history. Instead, Freeman builds off his own life experiences and musical influences (which he cites as Truth and 4Him) to shape the sound he saw fit for the record. At times his observations shine with intelligence and his beats are equally enjoyable. But those elements aren't always evident, given the handful of sluggish and somewhat uninteresting tracks on the project.

On the brighter side, there's Freeman's project-opening contemporary pop tune "Faith," along with the bubbly jazz sounds of "Could It Be." For the latter, Freeman crosses the styles of Nichole Nordeman and Ben Folds and blends in a lesson in godly obedience. "Who You Really Are" meshes together acoustic guitars and soothing piano, while Freeman's message of finding our identity in Christ is well written. He sings: "When no one is watching/ It's just you and the wind/ When the masquerades are over/ Who are you then?/ Take a look inside your heart/ Cause whatever remains is who you really are."

Some of the less-desirable tracks on the album include "Better Than This," "Satisfied," and "Don't Give Up on Me," none of which allow Freeman to reach the potential he demonstrates on the earlier examples. "Better Than This" has a gentle, piano-based opening and includes a string section, while "Satisfied" has a slightly more contemporary backdrop. Unfortunately, both are bogged down with sappy songwriting. I realize some will think Freeman's portrayal of family life on "Better Than This" is touching, but lines such as "Sitting here in my chair holding my babies tight/ Watching my precious wife" immediately brings "Butterfly Kisses" to mind. Freeman later has a slight musical identity crisis on "Don't Give Up on Me," on which he resorts to the thumping dance-laden pop one normally would associate with some of Avalon's jumpy material (such as "Take You At Your Word").

I have no doubt Freeman will earn an audience of fervent supporters upon the release of this album (just as he has on his preliminary tour with Phillips, Craig, and Dean). It's just that several other new artists in recent memory have made more of an impression on me. Those looking for a new singer/songwriter who occasionally dabbles with the piano should try fellow Rocketown artist Shawn Groves' debut Invitation to Eavesdrop or anything by Ginny Owens. On the inspirational side, there's also the modern-day troubadour Sara Groves and the Dove-award-winning trio Selah