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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Nov
Sounds like … urban/gospel-influenced adult contemporary-like Avalon with a little bit of CeCe Winans and Karen Clark SheardAt a Glance … there's no question Janna has quite a voice, but there's nothing particularly new or fresh on her solo debut.

Avalon temporarily has gone solo, beginning last month with the release of This Is Who I Am by the vocal group's Jody McBrayer. While his album didn't stray all that far from Avalon's typical glossy vocal pop sound, Jody did impress me by presenting more personalized material, both lyrically and musically. The Latin pop sound was surprisingly effective. His words were a little more seeker-friendly too, not quite as cluttered with the usual Christian pop clichés. This made the prospect of other solo projects from Avalon's members more promising, as it would allow them to be their own artist and share themselves on a more personal level through their own songs. Next year, we can expect a solo album from Cherie Palotta, who recently left Avalon permanently. In the meantime, we have the debut album from Janna Long, simply titled Janna.

It's probably not surprising to any fan of Avalon that the wife of Christian pop artist Greg Long has an outstanding voice; you've heard her most prominently on such songs as "Fly to You" and "Can't Live a Day." What may surprise some is how soulful Janna can be in her vocalizing – she's part Celine Dion and Margaret Becker, part Yolanda Adams and CeCe Winans. So just as Jody McBrayer's debut explored his life with Euro-pop electronica and Latin dance, Janna showcases her penchant for R&B-flavored adult contemporary a la Mariah Carey, CeCe Winans, and Karen Clark Sheard. The album's producers are all experienced in the R&B pop genre: Brown Bannister (CeCe Winans, Joy Williams), Anthony Michael "Mooki" Taylor (Stacie Orrico, Raze), and Mark Hammond (Nichole Nordeman, Jump5). You need not go beyond the album's first single, "Greater Is He," to hear the subtle difference between Avalon's dance-pop sounds and Janna's soulful urban pop ballads.

Now if only Janna could distinguish herself in this genre. Unfortunately, the songs are fairly generic testimonials that basically all say the same thing. The soulful gospel pop of "Greater Is He" simply reminds us that we can overcome all things through faith in Christ our Savior. The same theme is at the heart of the big power ballads like "In Christ Alone" (made famous by Michael English) and "What Would I Do," in which Janna sings, "I was so lost for what seemed a lifetime / My heart was broke inside and bruised / But I prayed a prayer and just at the right time / You reached for me as I reached for you / Now everything has changed here, everything is new / And it's all because of you." In case you didn't get the message from those few songs, the funky Christian pop of "Nothing Is Impossible" relays it again in an encounter between Janna and a friend: "I saw a friend the other day / She said she was feeling down / I said come on, you need to pray / And it will turn your life around." If after four songs you don't see the need for more of Jesus in your life, the Kathy Troccoli-styled pop ballad "More" will drive the point home even further. Likewise, the darkly hued pop of "Call" confirms that all you need to do is "Call, call from the center of your soul / Call, call on the Holy name of the Lord/ Call, call his name, he'll catch you when you fall / He'll carry you through it all." Again, Janna encourages listeners in the R&B ballad, "Somebody Loves You": "And when you really need a friend / Don't hesitate to call him / He will be there / To answer your prayer."

Considering she included on her album seven songs that essentially reiterate the power of prayer and faith in Jesus, this obviously is a message dear to Janna's heart. It should be noted that Janna openly admits that the songs on this album were intentionally simple and staightforward as an inspiration to those who need to hear it most. The rowdy electric R&B groove of "Overjoyed" might be considered a response to those songs with its celebration of finding joy in the Lord. "Think About That" has a nice medium R&B groove to back its Philippians 4:8-inspired message — "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … think about such things." Also included is "Superman," which seems to be a love song directed to Janna's husband (who guests on the track), though it's overflowing with "Man of Steel" clichés. Other than the apparent superpowers of her husband, there's certainly nothing inaccurate in what Janna sings about on this album. Nor is there anything wrong with the typical power pop and R&B arrangements or Janna's impressive voice. It is disappointing, however, that there's not more diversity in the musical styles, the lyrical subjects, or the lyrics themselves — there is a difference between being lyrically straightforward and being overly repetitive and simplistic. Jody's solo debut surpassed the music of Avalon in a number of ways. In contrast, I'm sorry to report there's nothing original about Janna's debut, though some will nevertheless find her music beautiful and her words encouraging.