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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Apr
Sounds like … the familiar contemporary pop sounds of Ginny Owens, with some R&B/soul influences, bearing similarities to Nelly Furtado and Jonatha BrookeAt a glance … Beautiful is not a bad album, but it feels routine and boring, with lyrics and melodies that sound similar to (but not as good as) her past songsTrack ListingWon't That Be FineNew SongI Love the WayCall Me BeautifulLet Them HearOrdinary DayAlwaysTo Trust YouWho Are You Listening ToBreadI Know Who You Are

Most people aware of Ginny Owens know her story by now. The Jackson, Mississippi native with a passion for music lost her sight at a young age. She attended Belmont University in Nashville to earn a degree in music education, but instead of teaching high school teens upon graduation, she attracted the attention of Rocketown Records in 1998. Her debut album, Without Condition, revealed a gifted twenty-something songwriter with insight and a timely sophisticated pop sound, earning Owens a Dove Award for Best New Artist in 2000.

Her follow-up, 2002's Something More, didn't fare quite as well. Not that the songwriting wasn't good—it was on par with the first album, and like its predecessor, it generated two radio singles. The big problem with it was overproduction by Monroe Jones, thereby burying Owens' gentle introspection. All the proof you need is heard on her superior follow-up, the Margaret Becker produced bluEPrint EP, which allowed the songs of Something More to breathe by giving them more organic, jazzier arrangements. Stylistically, the Norah Jones sound lent itself well to Owens' vocals and music. With word in 2003 that Becker would continue to produce some of Owens' next album, it suggested that the burgeoning artist had found her niche.

Which brings us to Beautiful, which for whatever reason is again produced by Jones save for one track by Becker ("New Song") that might as well have been produced by Jones as well. Fortunately, the album has been scaled back from the synthetic sounding Something More, but it's not the sophisticated mellow jazz of bluEPrint either. Beautiful is essentially Without Condition redux, but seasoned with Owens' love of soulful R&B. It's probably closer to the somewhat urbanized pop sound that she and Jones originally intended for Something More.

Owens could very well do justice to Alicia Keys' piano-based R&B/pop; unfortunately, she only dips her toe into the stylistic pool here. This is safe use of the stuff that made Without Condition a hit, and Owens admits that the album is a little simpler melodically and lyrically. The Psalm 73 inspired "Always" is as good an example as any. It's the most soulful track on Beautiful, with a darker melody, a bluesy guitar solo, hints of jazz, but essentially the same lyrical concept behind "If You Want Me To." The album's strongest melody is heard on "To Trust You," but it too is reminiscent of Owens' past work: "Will I ever learn to stop and listen/To keep knocking on your door until it opens/Teach me what it means to believe/That you are strong enough to carry me." The closing acoustic ballad "I Know Who You Are" has the same gentle sound and sentiment as "Run to You" or "I Am Nothing."

The songwriter's straightforward lyricism is intact, but it lacks the depth and freshness that many have come to expect from her. It's as if she's scratching at the surface of greater insight, empathy, and teaching. Consider how poignant "I Love the Way" could have been in the context of her disability, marveling over experiencing God's creation from a relatively unique perspective. How cool it would have been to hear her sing about responding to God's creation with worship based on how she perceives the world around her. Instead, the song relies on "You are so good to me" generalities consistent with so many other AC songwriters.

Similarly, "Won't That Be Fine" daydreams about the glorious perfection of heaven, though Owens is only able to muster "The sun always shines/Nothin' but love all the time." The words ring true, but it also feels like a retread. Slightly better is "Call Me Beautiful," in which she reminds us that we are defined by something far greater than the surface values of this world. Again, in the context of the artist, you can almost hear Owens struggling to keep a smile on her face in a world that seems to look down on her blindness. Lyrics like "You call me beautiful/Say you've loved me all along/And you've always held the keys to unlock my soul" help make the song more applicable to anyone, but they also feel like they were written by anyone.

The most loyal fans will not be disappointed with this album. It's the same open and accessible pop with Owens' most soulful vocals to date. That very sameness is also problematic, however; the album's just too boring. It feels like she's spinning her wheels, offering the same songs heard over her last two-and-a-half albums—indeed, a more produced version of bluEPrint's "Let Them Hear" is back for this disc. Ginny Owens is in a good place, but the point is she seems capable of better. While Beautiful does put her proven musical skills on display, to quote one of her previous songs, "There's gotta be something more."