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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Genesis

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 May
  • COMMENTS
Genesis
Sounds like … the same U2-influenced pop/rock direction recently taken by Rachael Lampa and Jaci Velasquez, also similar in style to Vanessa Carlton, Aslyn, Rebecca St. James, and Kelly Clarkson.At a glance … her latest doesn't dramatically reinvent the genre, but it's still a solid effort that matures Joy Williams' career in the right direction with stronger songwriting and a shimmering pop/rock sound.Track ListingStayWeSay GoodbyeHideBeautiful RedemptionUnafraidSilenceI'm in Love with YouGod Only KnowsChild of Eden

It's easy to lose sight that Joy Williams is still only 22 years old, perhaps because she's now an established artist after close to five years. Or maybe it's that she's already been married for nearly a year, or that she's another example of the oft-used cliché, "carrying herself with a maturity beyond her years."

Whatever it is, the one thing that's been lacking for Williams up until now is a clear artistic direction. Though she has a lovable personality, a wise spiritual perspective, and a strong pop voice, most of the past songs sounded generic enough to be sung by anyone. Her self-titled debut in 2001 introduced her as another teen pop clone a la Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore. 2002's By Surprise indeed surprised some with a more mature pop/rock sound that reflected Vanessa Carlton and Michelle Branch, but it was still a somewhat manufactured effort.

Now more than two years later, programmed teen pop is nearly dead while Carlton and Branch are struggling to maintain their audiences. Yet Williams seems poised to strike bigger than ever with the aptly titled Genesis. Like many other Christian female artists in the last year (Rachael Lampa, Natalie Grant, Jaci Velasquez), Williams has embraced a newfound shimmering modern pop/rock sound, and it feels like a fresh start—at least as much a leap forward as By Surprise was from the first disc. Matt Bronleewe produced, and though it does often resemble projects he's helmed for Rebecca St. James, Plumb, and Michael W. Smith, it still suits Williams nicely. "Stay" works particularly well, combining the pristine piano pop of Carlton ("White Houses") with upbeat rock a la U2 ("Beautiful Day").

Williams also distinguishes herself as a songwriter, co-writing for the first time on every track with assistance from the likes of Matthew West, Ian Eskelin, Jason Ingram, and Ben Glover. There initially doesn't appear to be a unifying theme to the album, which might well be titled to reflect Williams' new sound. But several songs touch on accepting ourselves for who we are and living for the Lord with confidence. The album title comes from "Say Goodbye," which bids farewell to the old self with more freshness than comparably themed songs. The popular first single "Hide" notes that we need to live life unashamed of our flaws and pain, becoming confident of who we've been shaped to be. "Unafraid" likewise serves as an anthem for finding confidence through faith amidst twenty-something insecurity, and Williams accepts her sinful nature while looking forward to sanctification in the dreamy, anthemic rock ballad "Child of Eden."

Other tracks reveal an even more personable touch. Inspired by the near death experience of her older sister, Williams wrote "God Only Knows" to come to grips with bad things happening to good people, and she does so without offering an easy answer beyond the Lord's sovereignty. "Silence" similarly wrestles with spiritual dryness, set to an appealing Euro pop sound. Originally intended to be the album's requisite worship song, "Beautiful Redemption" is actually an expressive confessional in which Williams compares herself to doubting Thomas, deceptive Judas, sinful Mary Magdalene, and the thief on the cross next to Jesus. It also features a beautiful atmospheric sound reminiscent of St. James and Delirious with hypnotic piano and a powerful build that eventually adds strings—the type of song that can potentially become a concert highlight.

Admittedly, some of these songs become a tad monotonous and unremarkable despite their likeability. And Williams at times seems like she's trying to emulate St. James, adding drama and style to her voice in a way that sometimes feels as if she's trying too hard to sound cool—beware of overshadowing genuine singing talent with gimmicky vocal techniques. But really, the album's only misstep is "I'm in Love with You," a gushy love song for Williams' new husband. It comes off almost too personal with references to waking up in bed together and getting ready for the day. Though her romantically inclined fans will find it sweet, it'll prove overly sappy for many and potentially difficult for the lonely to embrace. Williams is bound to write a superior love song later in life.

That still leaves nine other songs on this disc that range from good to excellent. Parts of this album will genuinely surprise listeners in a good way. A stronger than average pop/rock effort, Genesis marks a new artistic start for Joy Williams, who continues to mature her career in the right direction.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.


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