Dreamlife of Angels
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
After a three-and-a-half year hiatus and a change in record label, Sarah Masen is finally releasing her fourth project, The Dreamlife of Angels. Gone is the eclectic production style of Charlie Peacock, and the result is a folksy acoustic album similar to her first, The Holding. Producer John Jennings (Mary Chapin Carpenter) gives the recording a stripped-down earthy feel, not too unlike early Sixpence None the Richer or Mary Chapin Carpenter. Obviously some people are going to be happy with this and others will be disappointed, depending on which of Sarah's previous albums you liked best. This new project's acoustic sound is very understated compared to the interesting and glossy production that Charlie Peacock contributed to her previous two albums. Occasionally, there's an odd instrument that shows up, such as the toy piano in "Hope," the sliding keyboard effect in "Midnight," or the drum machine in "Give a Little Bit".
The Dreamlife of Angels is primarily focused on community and love—"a love bigger than ourselves" Sarah mentions in "We Are A Beginning," a song she wrote just before her wedding in 1998. "Love Is Breathing" has a fragile acoustic sound and is a beautiful meditation/prayer about Sarah's (at the time) unborn child. Though many of the songs on the album are inspired by recent personal milestones, Sarah writes about the Christian community at large, as well as the nonChristian world in which we live. In "Girl On Fire" she sings about reaching out to others who need "love, charity, and a sense of family." Likewise, "The Valley" reminds us of the need to pray for others during dark and troubled times.
Like in her past work, Sarah Masen displays smart songwriting with poetic and intellectual lyric content. But as much as I like her albums, I found myself unable to concentrate on the music in The Dreamlife of Angels I can't say the music is bad, simply that it isn't ear candy or hook laden. It's not that I don't enjoy simple intimate folk music, but the songs aren't quite strong enough to bring my ear to attention. I think I prefer the clever, artsy production Charlie Peacock lent to Sarah's cerebral folk music, though it's a little unfair to compare this album to her "All Fall Down" days. The Holding, her more similar-sounding project, featured stronger songwriting that wasn't quite as gentle or boring as this one. Though The Dreamlife of Angels IS a well-written, poetic, and pleasant album, it doesn't measure up to Sarah's previous work—and I fear its simplicity will cause it to remain largely unheard by the listening audience.