Beauty Has Grace
- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2005 1 May
- I'm Not Looking Down
- With All My Soul
- Prayer to Love
- Lay It Down
- Something Beautiful
- When You Hold Me
- Reason to Believe
- This Love
Jaci Velasquez has long enjoyed success on two levels—as an "adult contemporary" Christian artist, and as a Latin pop star. But the music she was making wasn't necessarily the music she loved most—like Brit pop favorites Coldplay and unpredictable innovators Radiohead. Velasquez told us last year that she wanted to make something more in line with her musical inclinations. It's not often that pop vocalists who've built their careers on pleasing the masses turn their back on the style that's given them acclaim. Dylan did it when he swapped his folk guitar for an electric one. Springsteen did it when he did the opposite. U2 did it when they gravitated toward psychedelia in the mid-'90s. None of them knew how the public would respond, but they didn't care, because they had enough clout—and money—to call the shots.
To a much lesser extent, what Velasquez attempts with
This in itself strips the project of the "cleanness" one usually expects from a Velasquez recording, as sumptuous Latin grooves are replaced by damp drumming and jangly guitars, hooks take a backseat to atmosphere, and vocal showmanship—Jaci's strongest suit—is absent almost completely. Opener "I'm Not Looking Down" is enough to realize this is a change of pace for the singer, as she favors the lower register of her vocal range, sounding like a more contained Cat Power or Aimee Mann than Gloria Estefan or Shakira.
The unevenly composed "This Love" and "Supernatural" also indicate that melody isn't nearly as important as ambiance or just plain uniqueness. Their lack of immediacy shouldn't be mistaken for weirdness as much as a response to tired pop convention, which is the exact aim of alternative pop. Elsewhere, "Prayer to Love" and a cover of GlassByrd's "Tonight" are almost long-lost cousins of each other, as both employ similar soft-rock dynamics yet still manage to remain highly singable, albeit in a more subtle way than past Jaci standards.
Velasquez is no stranger to lending her silky vocals to rock-inflected soundtracks, having done so in songs like "Made My World" and "You're Not There" in the past. "Something Beautiful," the only song not produced by Terefe, is the loudest and most pristine song in the set, an amped-up anthem where she asks God to be a living testimony.
But the Velasquez we know and love isn't totally gone. If only for one track, she hints at glories past with the beautiful "Lay It Down," a prayer that recalls previous vocal gems "I Will Rest in You" and "Adore." Driven by a dusty upright piano and delicate strings (it's not hard to picture Coldplay's Chris Martin gracing the ivories during the song's fragile progression), the ballad has a melody to die for as Velasquez belts it as if this was 1999.
The musical conduit may be different, but lyrically Velasquez doesn't reinvent the wheel here. Although she co-wrote six of the album's ten cuts, the themes aren't any more personal or honest than on her own
All of the above make