Sketchbook is a reset of sorts for Fantasia, newly independent after racking up a full career's worth of accomplishments -- a platinum debut, three additional Top Ten albums, and a Grammy among them -- with majors J and RCA. She's backed by a licensing deal with BMG and now has her own label, Rock Soul, named after the self-termed sound she has been plugging for years. Fantasia co-wrote all the material and is also credited as co-producer with new associate Jevon Hill, a studio veteran who has worked with high-profile artists ranging from Tamar Braxton and Tank to James Fortune and Tye Tribbett. The core of additional writers is connected to gospel more than any other genre, yet the set mixes it up as much as any previous Fantasia album. Contrary to the title, nothing sounds incomplete or even off-the-cuff. It's more like a lookbook. Skittering percussion and other mechanical, trap-styled production touches are most common, utilized to best effect on the slick testimonial "Holy Ghost" and the gospel-blues finale on which Fantasia duets with her mother, Mama Diane (Diane Barrino). She switches to early-'90s adult contemporary mode for the sparkling ballad "Enough," one of her sturdiest (if bizarrely out of time) love ballads, and not long afterward is in the present with a mismatched dancehall-lite production for the blissful "Take Off." A couple other cuts resemble peer tributes. Tearful throwback belter "Bad Girl" is Jazmine Sullivan to the core. "PTSD" is artful pop-R&B, a slinking slow jam that, heard from a distance, could be mistaken for the work of Dawn Richard (at least until T-Pain provides the album with some impulsive humor, exclaiming "Good god almighty, great googly moogly!"). There's also one rocker, the blaring intervention "Warning." It merely hints at what Fantasia might be able to do if she took a truly sketchbook-like approach in the studio. There's no telling what she'd cook up in a couple weeks of live recording with a small band fluent in funk and rock.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman