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Review: Fantasia keeps it simple at Artscape

By Hsia-Ting Chang

The Baltimore Sun

6:24 PM EDT, July 16, 2011

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Artscape kicked off its lineup of headlining acts with Fantasia Barrino, an R&B singer who found fame and a solid fan base on the third season of popular show “American Idol.” 

Barrino kept her set-up simple; rather than trick out the stage with nifty high tech gadgets, the R&B singer ensured that all audience attention was on her. The stripped down stage suited her and kept the atmosphere intimate, despite the mass of eager fans and families that sprawled across the surrounding hillside.

Besides, Barrino’s voice was all the embellishment she needed to charm the Baltimore crowds. Confident, powerful and controlled, her voice wasn’t perfectly smooth, as the mixed and remixed processing of her albums suggest. The singer utilized the natural roughness to her voice in a way that gave her performance charm, employing the rasp during emotionally charged pleas to an absent lover.

The Grammy winner took care to encompass the entirety of her career in her Artscape performance. Each album was carefully represented, from her newest release “Back to Me,” to her first effort. The title track “Free Yourself,” from her first album garnered catcalls and hearty assent from the crowd as the 26 year old belted out, “If you don’t want me, don’t talk to me.”

Other popular songs included swingy crowd pleaser “Collard Greens and Cornbread,” which inspired the audience to clap along. While those lucky enough to be directly in front of the stage maintained a core of constant movement, the hillsides, too, danced and sang along, though at a decidedly more sedate pace.

Barrino also performed a cover of Prince’s 1986 hit “Kiss.”  Her voice suited Prince’s falsetto to a tee, though she did leave out the infamous kissy noises that made the original so fun to sing. Nonetheless, she did the '80s classic justice and danced along to the saxophone interlude that carried into her next song.

Despite the chaotic energy of the crowd who came out to see her, Barrino managed to stay in control. She slowed the evening down with a rendition of her song “Teach Me,” off of “Back to Me.”  This heartfelt ballad certainly struck a chord with listeners as she entreated, “I wanna love you, boy, I wanna satisfy.”  The song gave the singer a chance to catch her breath, but it also prepared her for the extended finale, an amalgamation of songs that bled into each other.

Barrino ended the night with “I’m Doing Me” encapsulating her recent decision to focus on herself, and “Hood Boy,” which garnered noticeably better reactions. The easy rapport between singer and crowd and the identification the audience felt with this twenty-something Grammy winner was a tangible, beautiful sight to behold. One got the sense that even as she sang, “I need a hood boy,” the crowd, too, needed her.