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Sounds like … passionate fok/pop similar to Carolyn Arends or Sandra McCracken, with an alternative edge that draws comparisons to Over the Rhine or The ChoirAt a Glance … some of the songs are overly simplistic, with repetitive choruses and all-too-brief lyrical content, but there's enough here with the edgy production to recommend Sherri Youngward to fans of modern alternative folk.
Despite the fact that this is her debut album on BEC and that you might not recognize her name, Sherri Youngward actually has three albums already under her belt (her first two were released on Five Minute Walk records, the third was an independent release). Hailing from the west coast (originally the San Francisco Bay area), Sherri is actively involved in the Youth With a Mission ministry, a program for mentoring street kids. It's undoubtedly a ministry close to her heart since she became a Christian as a teenager. Immediately after making that life-altering decision, Sherri fell in love with the concept of worship music, a passion that's clearly shaped her songwriting and has led to many performances performances at churches across the country. Her new CD, Six Inches of Sky, is filled with plenty of these worshipful songs set against a dreamy and edgy alternative-folk backdrop.
Sherri recalls a lot of different Christian folk artists. Imagine Over the Rhine if they decided to focus more on worship, or the vocals of Danielle Young (Caedmon's Call) if she were her own songwriter. When you listen to "I'll Fly Away," a song about the joy we'll experience when we leave this earth for eternal life with God, you can't help but think of the roots-pop sound for which Carolyn Arends is known. The folk-pop is evident throughout the album, especially on the hidden track, "Nothing Like Before." The arrangement is appropriately stripped down to vocals and acoustic guitar as Sherri bares her soul about accepting Christ into her life. It's easy to make comparisons to any number of alternative folk-pop female artists (Sarah McLachlan, Sandra McCracken, and the Indigo Girls come to mind), but Sherri's music takes a small step outside the box thanks to interesting production by "The Glitter Twins" from the worship band Rock n' Roll Worship Circus. (Trust me, you'll be hearing more about them later this year.)
What could have been a simplistic acoustic-folk album is layered with ambient drums, programmed loops, classic keyboard effects, and fuzzy electric guitars. The sound draws obvious comparisons to Over the Rhine, The Choir, and Common Children's recent album, The Inbetween Time. You hear plenty of this sound on the moody track "What I'm Living For," a reminder that we're here on this earth to worship and serve God. Psalm 139 serves as the basis for the short track "Everywhere," which has a mesmerizing drum loop, soft guitar lick, and vocal part during the verse. The similarities to Over the Rhine are strongest on "Fist Full of Stones," which has a slow and deliberate jazz feel with a marimba and record-scratch loop layered over it. The words are inspired by the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman who's about to be stoned by her accusers (John 8:1-11). Another standout track, "Where This Love Goes," is a song based on 1 Corinthians 13. This is her strongest example of worship songwriting on the album, and it's matched by a sweet mix of band, piano, strings, and accordion. But for me, the album's highlight is the closing track, "This Dream of Mine," which does indeed have a dream-like quality to it, blending heavy drums, guitars, and mellotron strings straight out of a '70s progressive-rock album. The song was inspired by a dream Sherri had about heaven, and the album's "six inches of sky" refers to the tiny view through her window blinds to which she awoke.
p>With artistic songs, such as "This Dream of Mine," and smartly written worship songs, such as "Where This Love Goes," on the album, it's surprising to me that so many of the other album tracks are repetitive and uninspired by comparison. While many of the songs are every bit as passionate and worshipful in performance, Sherri often limits herself to a single verse, chorus, and bridge for the entire lyrical content. One or two like that would be fine, but I'm talking about half of the album. Some tracks, such as "First Fire" and "Falling Down," have the beginnings of great worship songs, but don't seem fully fleshed-out with only seven or eight lines of lyrics. This is unfortunate, because Sherri clearly is capable of poetic insight, and she easily could add another verse to some of these songs without making them too complicated or inaccessible. Her music also could benefit from more instrumental solos, such as the sweet guitar solo at the end of "Falling Down," to fill in her songs with more artistry. As it stands, Six Inches of Sky is a little too simplistic for my taste. Nonetheless, Sherri Youngward is a passionate worship artist with a smart production blend of alternative folk/pop.