Across the Sky
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jul
Why debut two young singer/songwriters separately when you can sell them more uniquely and cost-effectively as a duo? That's the underlying premise behind the formation of Across the Sky, comprised of two 21-year-olds: guitarist Ben Kolarcik and keyboardist Justin Unger. Both came to Word/Warner independently as solo artists. Ben comes from a military family that most recently settled in Louisville, Kentucky, and grew up with numerous opportunities to perform and lead worship in the church and the Christian schools he attended, becoming an independent artist after graduating high school. Justin comes from Phoenix, Arizona, where his father pursued a secondary career as a musician. Following in his dad's footsteps, Justin began writing in high school with the help of his grandfather (a pastor). He went on to form a band and then competed as a solo artist at the Gospel Music Association's Seminar in the Rockies—he took grand prize.
After pursuing record contracts on their own, Word introduced Ben and Justin to one another. By August 2002, the two became good friends and formed the artistic partnership known as Across the Sky. Their self-titled debut features a bevy of studio musicians and was helmed by two production teams: Jeremy Bose (Stereo Deluxx, Charmaine) and the relatively unknown Havoc (Kenny Lamb and Jim Cooper). That latter team's nickname might scare some people off, but Across the Sky is far from intense sounding. Just the opposite, in fact, Across the Sky is about as adult contemporary pop/rock as you can get these days. The vocals of Ben and Justin sound like members of 4Him and Newsong, or, perhaps more accurately, Go Fish and Brother's Keeper.
The better tracks on Across the Sky are those that are more guitar rock in flavor. The melodic opener, "Give It All Away," tells us that peace and security can only come from putting all our focus on God: "Pieces of me are all in disarray/And they're only held together by the threads I weave inside my head/But when I separate myself from all the troubles of this world/I see my cares and fears and worries all dissolve." A similar guitar rock sound is heard on "Exciting Times," the one track produced by Pete Kipley (MercyMe, Kristy Starling) in a style resembling Shaun Groves or Sonicflood. The song looks at the stress in our lives as an opportunity for Christ to lead us. The album's most "intense" track is "Masquerade," about Satan and the way he tries to deceive us from following God.
Those hopeful glimpses of artistry are in the minority on Across the Sky's debut though. In a song about God's unfailing presence, "When I Open My Eyes" sounds exactly like The Rembrandts in both their harmonies and their generic pop/rock sound. "Found by You" is about dependence and reliance on God, and it sounds like the adult contemporary you'd associate with Christian bands like
Newsong. Without question, the album's worst track is "Everywhere
She Goes." It's a wonder the song was included since no one
directly involved in the album's production was involved in
writing this extremely generic pop/rock love song. I'm certain
there are songs by N'Sync with more intelligence and style than
this. The album's other cover is a rendition of Michael W.
Smith's gorgeous "Do You Dream of Me?" from his
Across the Sky also gets songwriting assistance from a handful of notable Christian artists, but to very little payoff. "Broken World" was co-written with Scott Krippayne, and you can hear his influence in this piano-driven ballad about Christ being our anchor: "You make sense of madness/Make darkness flee/Bring such a calm to the chaos in me." Jason Ingram helps out on "Shooting Star," a song of humility and forgiveness driven by the image of the prodigal son and his loving father. Kyle Matthews co-wrote the simple pop/rock of "Not So You Will Love Me," which reminds us that we do good works not to earn Christ's love, but because he loves us. "First Love Song" was co-written with Cindy Morgan as a simple love letter to Christ for saving our souls through his death on the cross. Like the other songwriters, however, Cindy's presence is diminished by overly simplistic lyrics like those found in the chorus of "First Love Song: "This is my very first love song/I'm gonna sing it for You."
The print materials suggest Across the Sky hopes to reach a mainstream audience in the same way that Sixpence None the Richer has. Stranger things have happened (like MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine" getting mainstream radio play), but it's not likely to happen with this album. The words are too trite, the music too
generic, and the overall sound too manufactured. I'd love to say that this is a promising debut, but there's simply very little to recommend here, as