Black gospel was slow to catch up to the praise & worship craze that enveloped the CCM side of gospel music in the '90s, but once it finally caught on at the turn of the millennium, it didn't let up. While not a praise & worship leader in the strictest sense, contemporary gospel heavyweight Fred Hammond was one of its most natural proponents. Ever since his Radical for Christ days, Hammond was quietly but dutifully forging his own take on praise & worship -- a gospel/urban hybrid large on choral dynamics, vertical sentiment, and deft musicianship. After a brief parenthesis with 2004's largely reflective Somethin' 'Bout Love, Hammond adopted a more triumphant tone with Free to Worship, his first album since relocating his quarters from Detroit to Dallas. While it's more performance-based than your average congregational praise recording, Free to Worship is otherwise classic Fred -- it successfully channels his "heart" for worship music. That's not to say Hammond doesn't try his hand at corporate arrangements -- the breezy "Lord Your Grace" is pure Sunday-morning delight, as is the stomping, electrifying remake of the praise oldie "This Is the Day." The music minister sounds lighter on his feet -- reassured and carefree, yet never self-focused or, worse yet, self-referential. His main concern here is to point his thoughts heavenward, whether he's entertaining his funky ("Every Time I Think"), soulful ("No Greater Love"), or gospel ("Keep on Praisin'") sides. As the album winds down, Hammond gets decidedly more inspirational, more subtle -- similar to the Somethin' 'Bout Love sessions, but with a more worshipful slant. Hammond has absolutely nothing prove; he's done it all. This explains why Free to Worship, while not the most consistent album he's made, it's undoubtedly one of the most effortless of his career. Hammond was born to sound like this.
Andree Farias, Rovi