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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Sounds like … eclectic and sophisticated pop, ranging from ethereal piano ballads and jazz to latin and upbeat dance pop. Cindy's a mix of Carole King, Amy Grant, and (to a lesser extent) Tori Amos—fans of Nichole Nordeman should not miss this.At a Glance … Elementary continues to demonstrate Cindy Morgan's gift for sophisticated pop songwriting. It ranks with her previous albums Listen and The Loving Kind.

Like me, most Christian music fans are eagerly awaiting new fall releases from Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, and Caedmon's Call … but I'm probably in the minority when I say I've been most looking forward to the new Cindy Morgan album. For those who haven't discovered Cindy's music in recent years, let me explain why I've been eager for her album. Cindy started her career as a Christian artist back in 1992, when her debut established her as the latest Christian pop artist with a pretty voice. Though her first few albums were well received, there wasn't a lot to her sound to distinguish her music from the usual inspirational dance pop—except that she actually had a hand in writing her songs and also played the piano. Then Cindy partnered with producer Brent Bourgeois for 1996's Listen album, and ended up turning everyone's perceptions of her on their head. Suddenly, here was an artist writing extremely sophisticated pop songs with interesting melodies and music that was a wonderful blend of pop and jazz. She followed that with 1998's The Loving Kind, an alternative pop meditation on the week leading to Christ's death and resurrection (also produced by Brent Bourgeois). It's been a long three years since these pop masterpieces, and Cindy's been busy with the birth of her daughter and the death of her father. I've been eagerly anticipating a follow-up, wondering if Cindy's songwriting renaissance would continue.

Elementary answers that question with a resounding yes. There is absolutely no doubt now that Cindy Morgan is one of Christian music's most important songwriters. She's got the same ear for catchy pop as Amy Grant, the occasional edginess of a modern pop songstress such as Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan, and the classic songwriting know-how of Carole King. If you're a fan of Nichole Nordeman's music and haven't yet acquainted yourself with Cindy Morgan, you need to run to your local store (or right now. This mixture of sounds varies from album to album, and Elementary has a lot less of the modern pop edge than The Loving Kind did. It's a very mature pop album, and there are songs on it where you'll swear you're listening to Amy Grant or Carole King. Which leads me to the one drawback on Elementary—it's such a mature pop album that some will consider it boring and others will wonder what the hubbub is about. With a few exceptions, it's not a very up-tempo recording, driven mostly by pop ballads and lounge jazz. It's not an album that everyone will embrace.

That, of course, is their loss. Cindy skillfully shifts genres on Elementary, displaying a remarkable diversity in her music. The album opens with the pop fanfare of "The World Needs Your Love," and then seamlessly transitions into the Avalon-like dance pop of "Good Thing." The album features several of Cindy's trademark moody piano ballads ("In These Rooms" is probably one of her most passionate ever), but along the way she visits a host of other styles. There's '70s Latin pop ("New World"), Burt Bacharach-flavored lounge jazz/pop ("Believe"), '70s pop a la Carole King or Steely Dan ("End of the World"), R&B-seasoned modern pop ("Happy"), and the simple jazz ditty "I Love You." I'm just hinting at the musical range covered on the album's 13 songs, and it should be noted that the musicianship is excellent on Elementary, offering a literal cornucopia of instruments and sounds. I'm also impressed that Cindy took a more active role in the production—she co-produced with Brent this time. Elementary is a joyride for listeners who love all kinds of pop music.

Thematically, Elementary is a response of sorts to 1999's Streams project, on which Cindy Morgan played a significant part in songwriting and performing (and Brent also produced). While that album broached the subject of dealing with pain and grief, Elementary explores the joy and happiness that eventually come to us after traversing through that grief. This is best summed up in the album's bookend song, "The World Needs Your Love"—"In all of this confusion there's only one solution / the world needs Your love." Just as Streams acknowledges a little bit of hope amidst the grief, Elementary acknowledges the grief and concludes that we have reason for joy because of God's love for us. Whether it's a broken home ("In These Rooms") or Judgment Day ("End of the World"), there's still refuge for the weary, hope for the hopeless, and love for the unloved. God's blessings are never far away in our lives either, and such blessings are acknowledged in "Good Thing" with the dawning of a new day, as well as "Walk In the Rain" and "Sunshine" (with its hilarious introductory track "Grape Soda" by 'Harry Carey'). Though these sentiments sound like something a child would pray for, Cindy never comes off as trite or overly simplistic in these songs. Besides, there's something to be said for having faith like a child and remembering all of God's blessings—hence the title track, "Elementary."

Lyrically, Cindy's latest is simple in its delivery, yet profound in its message. Musically, the album is retro in sound, yet it's also modern in performance. I wish more Christian albums were as challenging, inspiring, artistic, and fun to listen to. This album is at the same level of artistic excellence as her previous two, but I don't know if I can rank them since all three albums are so different. Elementary is a mature pop record that covers a lot of musical territory, and though I can't call it her best album, I can confidently call it one of the year's best.

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