LaShell Griffin

Free [US CD]

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LaShell Griffin had been singing in church choirs for two decades before she heard about "Pop Star Challenge." The brainchild of Oprah Winfrey, this feature of her TV program was created in answer to the youth-obsessed aspect of the AMERICAN IDOL phenomenon. While the songs Griffin performed on Winfrey's show were generally secular (though inspirational) pop, her debut album, a result of her winning the contest, reveals deep roots in gospel. With FREE, Griffin deftly navigates the line between sweet, original soul and songs of devotional faith.

On "Get Away," she unwinds in a neo-soul style comparable to Jill Scott, backed by a funk-driven beat. A few tracks later, Griffin sings a stirring version of the ballad "Man from Galilee" that would do Cissy Houston proud. The two tracks are from opposite sides of the fence, but they match brilliantly on this prismatic record. FREE reaffirms Oprah's knack for unveiling promising talent, and proves that Griffin is not just a contest-winner, but a rising force in both the worlds of gospel and soul music.

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