Love Out Loud
- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2008 1 Mar
- Nothing But Sky
- It's Not You, It's Me
- Love Out Loud
- Jesus (The Way)
- My Alleluia
- A Likely Story
- Por Escrito
- Into the Light Again
A lot has transpired in the life of Jaci Velasquez since the release of 2005's Beauty Has Grace, which seemed to mark the start of a dark period for the songstress. Soon after its release, she divorced, ended her long tenure with Word Records, and moved to London to try to carve a new beginning for herself. And though Beauty Has Grace was one of the best-reviewed of Velasquez's career, it didn't quite meet expectations—it yielded no surefire radio hits and was ultimately the lowest-selling of all her English-language albums.
Nothing was inherently wrong with that album, but it did find Velasquez distancing herself from her core strengths: soaring Christian pop balladry and sassy Latin pop revelry. Those two elements were the marrow of Velasquez's past successes in music, and are exactly what she's trying to re-create on her first full-length project as an independent artist, Love Out Loud—a return to the qualities that helped her resonate with the public at large
From the sound of things, you could say Velasquez has turned a corner. She's happily remarried (to Nic Gonzalez of Salvador), the mother of a new baby boy, and is back to normalcy after a period of tumult. Love Out Loud reflects that—it's the most upbeat, reassured batch of songs Velasquez has recorded since 2003's Unspoken. While the spirit of the music recalls that album, the pop/rock sound is actually closest to Jaci's 1998 self-titled effort for many reasons.
The main one is Mark Heimermann, the same producer that helmed Velasquez's first three Christian-pop albums, which were the peak of the singer's career. Back in the control room, the erstwhile dc Talk producer helps to steer Love Out Loud back to the Jaci Velasquez of yore. Of course, the vocalist is now an indie doing things on her own dime, so it makes sense the songs do not boast the same big-budget pop polish of earlier efforts.
In this regard, Love Out Loud is less a comeback album than it is a throwback, echoing her best days. A comeback in the truest sense would've meant not only a return to working with Heimermann, but also with stronger songwriters like those on her previous projects, like Chris Eaton, Nicole and David Mullen, and even Rudy Perez, the Latin knob-turner who helmed her hugely popular Llegar a Ti and Mi Corazó n projects.
Instead, the logistics here are much more scaled back. Gone are the big-voiced ballads and sweeping orchestral arrangements—the stuff church soloists loved singing in church as special music. Some songs come close, like the intimately spare "Jesus (The Way)" or the prayerful, piano-based "My Alleluia," but neither of those is the next "On My Knees" or "Imagine Me Without You." Nonetheless, they still recall early-day Jaci, particularly the haunting "My Alleluia," which is eerily reminiscent of her minor hit "Speak for Me."
Not every song is a winner, unfortunately. Some like "Nothing but Sky," "Into the Light Again," and "Weightless" merely go through the motions as far as Christian pop goes. Interestingly, the ones with the most personality are those Velasquez co-wrote with Heimermann. It's not the first time the two of them have teamed up. The pair partnered on the excellent "Escuchame" and "You're Not There" off 2000's Crystal Clear. Their collaborations this time ("A Likely Story," "Tango") are much tamer, but extremely likable. "Tango" in particular works well as a Latin-pop number, even if it seems to borrow freely from Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know."
Even more tender and heartfelt is "Por Escrito," a delightful love song in Spanish sung as a duet with her husband Nic. Adorned by nylon-stringed guitars and soft Latin percussion, it's one of the most effortless and organic songs of Velasquez's career. Between "Tango" and this one, it's more evidence why she should think about getting back to recording in Spanish pronto.
Collectively, Love Out Loud is still an enjoyable return to form for Velasquez. The highs and the lows (plus Christian music's own weird state of flux and uncertainty these days) make it hard to estimate how this album will fare with audiences. But there's no question that this is the singer's turf—the type of music Velasquez was born to sing all along. It's Christian pop for the masses to embrace, and despite some of its commonness, Love Out Loud is exactly the sort of album Velasquez needed to make at this point in her life. Welcome back, Jaci.