Sounds like … jazz-inflected acoustic pop in the tradition of Jason Mraz, Shane & Shane, Marc Broussard, Jake Smith, John Mayer, and Warren BarfieldAt a glance … Jimmy Needham's sophomore effort impressively builds on the strengths of his debut, offering a more polished sound with even more insightful lyrics that balance the message of the gospel with the practicalities of everyday relationshipsTrack Listing Come Around A Breath or Two Hurricane Firefly Forgiven and Loved Before & After Tossed by the Wind Unfailing Love (Kelly's Song) Rend The Author The Great Love Story Not Without Love (Benediction)

Jimmy Needham's national debut Speak arrived in 2006 with little fanfare, apparently lost in the shuffle with so many other guitar-playing singer/songwriter types. But unlike most, Needham truly does resemble Jason Mraz and Marc Broussard with his jazzy inclinations, scat-like vocals, and clever wordplay. Additionally, the Houston resident is well-versed, having studied history and philosophy in college, yet also grounded in theology. One of my colleagues even described his passionate, straightforward lyrical approach to Keith Green, and I can't say I disagree. So how does a guy with all the ideal traits for a celebrated Christian artist go unnoticed by so many?

Regardless, that's bound to change judging by the sophomore effort, Not Without Love, starting with the production quality. Speak sounded like a repositioned indie project, whereas this one is more a polished label release. Needham's jazzy side remains intact amid the varied range of soulful pop, folk, and soft rock, with enough appeal to attract fans of Mraz, John Mayer, and Marc Broussard as well as Shane & Shane, Jake Smith, and Warren Barfield.

It's the writing, though, that elevates Needham above the average. As outlined in the impressive opener "Come Around," the young singer/songwriter wrestles with allowing legalism and his zeal for sharing the gospel to compromise showing practical acts of love and kindness—it's a spot-on indictment of today's Christian culture. "Forgiven and Loved" works along the same lines, drawing on Romans 8:1 and Ephesians 3:17-19 for a very thoughtful and biblical treatise on grace.

What we have here are solid examples of Christian songwriting, clearly inspired by faith and practical living without relying on clichés or platitudes. Needham is a teacher and a communicator, not just towing the line for radio play. Christian music has seen its share of songs about familiar topics like finding peace amid life's hectic pace ("A Breath or Two"), building through brokenness (the worshipful and introspective "Hurricane"), and the message of the cross ("The Great Love Story"). But it's rare for such songs to be infused with such personality, original lyricism, and clever wordplay. Needham even throws a couple of love songs to his new wife in the mix, celebrating marriage with the playful "Firefly" while sharing his proposal through "Unfailing Love"—don't be surprised if a lot of young men start using the latter to initiate engagements.

As for the Keith Green comparison, look no further than the passionately delivered spoken word of the title track for proof. Though the first album was quite good, Not Without Love is that much better. Even if the jazzy pop approach has grown rather passé after five years, Needham gets it right in nearly every way with this album, seemingly destined to build on his skills and to develop even more profound songwriting for albums to come.

Copyright © Christian Music Today. Click for reprint information.