By Debra Akins, contributing editor, GospelMusicChannel.com
The anticipated release of Mandisa's sophomore CD, Freedom, brings her one major step closer to the day when we all stop referring to her as a former "American Idol" finalist and instead let her stand tall on her very own merits. In fact, that day may already be here. Because although this singer's musical journey began with a spectacular run of performances that led her into the final rounds of the show's fifth season, providing a platform in front of millions of viewers each week, Mandisa has come a long way in proving the opportunity was not simply a lucky break.
Aside from last year's critically-acclaimed holiday project It's Christmas (2008), Freedom is a follow-up to Mandisa's 2007 debut, True Beauty, an album that created history by becoming the highest chart entry for a debut artist in the life of her label, Sparrow Records. It also became the only female debut to hit No. 1 in the 27-year history of Billboard's Christian Retail Chart. True Beauty received a GRAMMY nomination for "Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album, the single "Only the World" became a Top 5 hit at Christian radio, and Mandisa was lauded one of the "Best New Artists of 2007" by multiple media outlets.
And if anyone is looking for more proof in the pudding, they should be pleased with what they find here in Freedom's collection of celebratory songs. Inspired in part by her recent 75-pound weight loss, Freedom's thematic elements come together cohesively, allowing Mandisa to let loose and enjoy sharing some of the truth and joy that seems to be bubbling over in her life these days.
The jubilant first single, "My Deliverer," is a perfect example of the empowering message that builds the foundation of the entire album. With its buoyant pop/funk track backing her up, Mandisa sings with a carefree confidence about feeling more alive than ever.
"If there's any one song that truly reflects what God is doing in my life, this is that song," Mandisa explains. "My struggle with weight has been, and will probably continue to be, the biggest battle of my life...It's a spiritual warfare issue for me...I have to ask for God's help every single day, so I know that it's going to take a whole lot more than any diet plan or any exercise plan to set me free. He is truly my deliverer who is setting me free from all of this, and he's the reason I'm so excited about being able to sing this song."
She continues the theme with the urban/gospel-flavored "Freedom Song," one of several tracks Mandisa co-penned with songwriters Matthew West and Sam Mizell. Complete with a gospel choir and B3 organ, Mandisa calls it a "praise party" about freedom that can be found in Christ.
The groove-filled "Definition of Me" is a fun track featuring the rap stylings of Group 1 Crew's Bianca, while "Leave It In The Valley" will keep you bouncing along with the piano. And once again, acclaimed producers Brown Bannister and Christopher Stevens expertly guided Freedom's songs between styles while staying true to Mandisa's own personality and character. They were able to extract a range of some of the most powerful and poignant performances from this artist to date, including the worshipful ballads "Not Guilty" (another track co-written by Mandisa, West and Mizell) and the hope-filled "He Is With You," one of the most emotionally powerful songs on the album.
Another stirring song, and possibly the most memorable, is the album's final track, "You Wouldn't Cry (Andrew's Song)." It holds a tender place in Mandisa's heart because it was written for a new friend she made this past year who was pregnant, but whose baby boy, Andrew, was stillborn. Co-written with singer/songwriter Cindy Morgan, the song's tender verses and melodic refrain, perfectly delivered by Mandisa's clear, crisp vocals, will undoubtedly be a comfort to anyone who has experienced this kind of tragedy in their lives.
Freedom is another great offering from this powerful vocalist who continues to inspire and encourage people of all ages and all walks of life.
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