by LaShell GriffinLaShell Griffin


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LaShell Griffin may be the winner of Oprah's Pop Star Challenge, but her debut album, Free, shows that she's actually a gospel star waiting to happen. As the winner of Oprah's competition, Griffin definitely helped separate the contest from its inspiration, American Idol: after years of honing her skills in her church's gospel choir, she is a more seasoned and independent performer than the young singers that come out of American Idol's pop-star factory. Unfortunately, this isn't always reflected on Free. The album tries to blend contemporary R&B, middle-of-the-road pop, and gospel into something that will appeal to as many people as possible, and ends up short-changing Griffin's voice in the process. Most of the album consists of pretty, vaguely inspirational songs such as "Learn to Breathe," "Rise," and "He's Coming Again"; even though Griffin gives them all the passion she's got, they still sound meandering and somewhat tuneless. Anyone who saw or heard Griffin's performances on the Pop Star Challenge or its accompanying CD knows that she's a powerful performer when she's given good material, but too often on Free, she's let down by bland songwriting. But, while the album is a disappointment, it's not an outright disaster. Free top-loads its track listing, getting off to a strong start with "You Are Mine" -- a song that shows off the intimacy and power of Griffin's voice -- and the single "Free," the album's best fusion of smooth gospel and urban sounds. Not surprisingly, Griffin is the most engaged on the songs that sound the most personal, as well as the ones that play to her gospel strengths. "I Can Only Imagine" is one of the album's liveliest tracks and one of the most musically interesting, with a syncopated beat, strings, and keyboards giving it a unique pop sound. "This Is Who I Am" takes a similarly streamlined approach, allowing Griffin the breathing room to really show off the musical and emotional range of her voice. This song, and a few others on Free, attempt to reflect Griffin's roots as a stay-at-home mother of five from Detroit. The urban pop of "Get Away" celebrates her few moments of private time; it's pretty charming, even if the hip-hop-styled shoutouts to Oprah, the Harpo staff, and other behind-the-scenes players feel more than a little forced. "Faith" is a duet with Griffin's husband Lee (who also has an impressive voice that's both smooth and smoky) that is closest to her gospel roots and suggests how much more consistent Free would have been if it hadn't been diluted with weak songwriting. All in all, Free is a nice album, but Griffin has the ability to deliver a lot more. Although the Pop Star Challenge gave her the opportunity to make an album in the first place, she seems hampered by the confines of the contest. Griffin clearly has the voice and the "faith" to make a show-stopping gospel album; maybe she'll get to make that album later in her career, but Free isn't it.

Product Details

Release Date: 05/25/2004
Label: Sony
UPC: 0827969249925
catalogNumber: 92499
Rank: 63092

Album Credits

Performance Credits

LaShell Griffin   Primary Artist,Vocals,Background Vocals
Yvonne Gage   Choir, Chorus
Brian Culbertson   Keyboards
David Davidson   Concert Master
Chris McHugh   Drums
Jeffrey Morrow   Choir, Chorus
Richard Patterson   Bass
Tim Pierce   Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar
Johnny Rutledge   Choir, Chorus
Jackie Street   Bass
Craig Bauer   Acoustic Guitar,Hammond Organ
Lisa Cochran   Background Vocals
Leroy Griffin   Vocals
Stevie Robinson   Choir, Chorus
Chaka Blackmon   Drums
Larry King   Background Vocals
Michael Ripoll   Electric Guitar
Opal Staples   Choir, Chorus
John Blasucci   Piano,Hammond Organ
Greg Bieck   Bass,Keyboards
Pete Kipley   Guitar
Melody Joy   Background Vocals
Michael Thompson   Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar
Ulf Forsberg   Strings
Paul Mabin   Choir, Chorus
Simbryt Whititngton   Choir, Chorus
Jeanette Olsson   Background Vocals
Britta Bergström   Background Vocals
Jamie Kenney   Piano
Mike Ripol   Guitar
Love Sponge Orchestra   Strings
Joe Ayoub   Bass
Kimberly Allen   Vocals
Antonio Avant   Background Vocals
Crystal Edwards   Background Vocals
Lauren Pilot   Choir, Chorus
Joan Walton Hanks   Choir, Chorus
Lee Griffin   Track Performer
Crystal Edwards   Background Vocals
Seanna Turner   Background Vocals
Lee Griffin   Vocals

Technical Credits

Franne Golde   Composer,Producer
Thom Cadley   Vocal Engineer
Kurt Clayton   Vocal Arrangements
Brian Culbertson   Arranger,Producer,Engineer,drum programming
Kenny Hicks   Vocal Arrangements,Vocal Producer
Steve "Silk" Hurley   Producer,Vocal Arrangements,drum programming
Marco Marinangeli   String Arrangements
Jeffrey Morrow   Choir Arrangement
Travon Potts   Arranger,Producer,Engineer,Instrumentation
Brad Haehnel   Programming,Engineer
Craig Bauer   Arranger,Producer,Engineer,Vocal Engineer,Vocal Producer,Pro-Tools
Tracy Carter   Vocal Arrangements
F. Reid Shippen   Engineer
Kenny Komisar   Executive Producer
Dan Muckala   Producer
Jeff Moseley   Executive Producer
Ron Scott   Producer
Jennifer Paige   Composer
Chaka Blackmon   Producer
Isaac Phillips   Producer,Vocal Arrangements,Instrumentation
Greg Bieck   Producer,Engineer,drum programming
Pete Kipley   Producer,String Arrangements,String Conductor
Bart Millard   Composer
Kasia Livingston   Composer
Bag & Peer   Arranger,Producer

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