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reviewed by Russ BreimeierCopyright Christianity Today International
Sounds like … the relatively generic guitar pop/rock of Paul Colman Trio, By the Tree, Matchbox Twenty, and Sugar RayAt a glance … the songs on this fair debut are designed for radio play, which is to say they're kind of fun, but also kind of clichédTrack Listing More Happy The Turnaround I Can't Hear You You Know Where To Find Me The End Out Of My Hands The Lie Every Second My Finest Hour Curtain
New artist Matthew West has built a name for himself in relatively short time. Hailing from the Chicago suburbs, where his father has served as a pastor for 30 years, West developed an interest in music through church and high school, and went on to study the subject in college, where he also tried his hand at songwriting. Upon graduation, after gaining a following as an independent artist, he moved to Nashville and signed a songwriting deal. Since then, he's contributed songwriting to a handful of established Christian artists: Salvador ("Lord I Come Before You"), Sara Groves ("Child of Love" from City on a Hill: It's Christmas Time), and Rachael Lampa ("Savior Song"). By working his way up as a songwriter and continuing to perform as an independent artist, West finally signed a recording contract with Sparrow and Universal South (the latter indicating intentions to market West outside the Christian marketplace). He was also featured on the 2003 Festival Con Dios tour.
Happy, his simply titled debut produced by Kenny Greenberg and Jason Houser, is not an unrealistically sunny album of forced emotion, but rather one that finds joy in the Lord despite life's harsh realities. West's sound is straightforward guitar pop and rock, much like Paul Colman Trio, By the Tree, Matchbox Twenty, and Sugar Ray. The album opens with his debut single "More," a rocker with some impressively progressive chords about God's strong and boundless love for us. The title track is equally catchy guitar rock, rejoicing in the knowledge that the Creator is in control amid the chaos.
Three songs in particular stand out on this CD. "The Turnaround" is a heavy rocking plea for God's strength and freedom from sin, similar to Paul Colman Trio or Michael W. Smith, but with more rock bravado. West sings the prayerful words, "Don't let this river get lost in the ocean/Don't let this rock take me down, down, down/My heart is standing on the edge of the world/I need you to help me make the turnaround," followed by an irresistible chorus of "na na na." Things are lighter on "The End," an update on the adage "in every life, a little rain must fall" that sort of resembles Sugar Ray's "Fly"—West is especially fun to listen to during the closing minute. Then there's "My Finest Hour," a poignant ballad of faith written during a time of pain and weakness: "Now I don't understand it/I don't think I'll ever comprehend it/It's so hard to conceive it/So I guess I'll just believe it/This will be my finest hour."
Happy is often enjoyable and well produced, but it's also quite generic—textbook Christian pop/rock heard on the radio for the last five years. "The Lie" offers great reminders that we're never too far gone for God's forgiveness, but the rapped bridge is forced and the overall sound too much like Paul Colman Trio. "I Can't Hear You" is especially derivative sonically, while "Out of My Hands" is little different from numerous other Christian pop songs about God being in control. Good messages, but West is in serious need of a more distinct pop/rock sound.
Still, this is the album I wish Paul Colman Trio made for 2003 instead of One. It's just a little more exciting in sound and original in words, revealing West's personality and sense of humor. Happy is tailor-made for Christian Hit Radio, and it's not unfathomable for one or two of the songs to make it on mainstream radio. There's no question that a lot of people are looking for just that—simple and encouraging pop/rock songs designed for radio—but a little more creativity in musical vision will go a long way for Matthew West.