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Sounds like … the gentle, organic pop/rock of Anna Nalick, Sarah McLachlan, Susan Ashton, and Jill Paquette as well as Caedmon's Call's Danielle Young.At a glance … though it lacks some of the sonic creativity and catchiness of her impressive 2004 debut, Dillon's Imagination is a worthy follow-up that continues to prove her a remarkably gifted singer/songwriter for her age. Track Listing Dreamer Hallelujah In an Airplane All That I Can Do I Believe in You My Love Hasn't Grown Cold New The Way I See You Vagabond Be Near Me Imagination
Teenage artists are becoming the norm rather than the exception these days, but those that can write and perform songs with emotional resonance and depth are indeed rare. That's what sets this 16-year-old from Ohio apart from others, earning her a loyal fan base and instant industry acclaim with GMA nominations for Best Album, New Artist, and Female Vocalist in 2005. And only the boundless energy of a teen can allow Bethany Dillon to present a sophomore effort a mere 16 months after the release of her self-titled debut and a year's worth of regular touring.
Imagination once again establishes Dillon as an artist who is light years ahead of her peers, carrying herself with the maturity of someone twice as old. Writing/co-writing all eleven tracks, she's re-teamed with producer Ed Cash (Bebo Norman) for an earthy acoustic pop/rock sound that's in step with her last album. And even though it's been less than two years, there are already clear signs that Dillon is finding more sharpness in her writing, offering dichotomous themes of kings and commoners mixing, pain and joy intertwining, and falling short of perfection yet still finding favor with God.
The quiet and contemplative "My Love Hasn't Grown Cold" is perhaps her most seasoned work yet, drawing inspiration from Hosea to cope with brokenness and restoration—it's very close to the sobering tone of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." The title track is similarly low-key and reflective, also revealing a more mature and candid writing style as Dillon confesses the struggle between who we are and who we want to be: "Isn't that just like a finite mind/Setting out with such righteous indignation/But now I'm at Your feet/Could You look at me with some imagination." And it's refreshing to see a Christian artist casually exploring non-spiritual subjects, like the unrequited love expressed in "The Way I See You."
Dillon also resembles Danielle Young of Caedmon's Call with her soft acoustic pop style, like with "In an Airplane," a simple illustration that finds God and hope in the small details of life. Reminiscent of Caedmon's Call's Share the Well album, "Vagabond" is an inspiring song about mission work and dedicated to the Gospel for Asia ministry. Other tracks resemble the soothing pop of Anna Nalick, like "Be Near Me," in which she reminds herself that God is loving and not unjust, or "I Believe in You," which is about God's enduring presence. "Hallelujah" is a strong pop anthem inspired by Job about having faith despite whatever might come our way. It's a bit similar to other Christian radio hits like Susan Ashton's "Stand," but it does have hit potential and perceptive lyrics: "The same sun that rises over castles and welcomes the day/Spills over buildings into the streets where orphans play/And only You can see the good in broken things."
Though the album is full of well-written songs, Imagination is lacking its namesake overall. The little inventive and playful touches in the arrangements and production that made Dillon's debut so interesting are missing here. First radio single "All That I Can Do" has a likeable rock groove and a nice climbing melody in the chorus, but it's not a particularly memorable song. "New" is pretty-but-lackluster folk-pop that fails to capture the illustration of creation from the Narnia book The Magician's Nephew that inspired it. (She has a second, slightly better Narnia song appearing on the forthcoming soundtrack for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe). And "Dreamer" is the featured song during the end credits of the October 2005 film bearing the same name. But it's somewhat routine sounding pop/rock, and despite the interesting image of "a king who would do anything to protect the kingdom," it's not fully explored within the song or adequately tied to the concept of the dreamer within it.
I can't emphasize enough, though, that this is a very good album—just not quite as good as Dillon's previous effort. Without enough catchy hooks, too many songs blur together in their organic pop ambience. But it all remains enjoyable nonetheless, further demonstrating the budding talents of this young singer/songwriter, and proving that it doesn't take much imagination to see Bethany Dillon continuing to make music years from now.