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My Roots Go Deeper

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Apr
My Roots Go Deeper
Sounds like … acoustic pop and folk along the lines of Alison Krauss, Jill Phillips, Mindy Smith, Susan Ashton, and Shawn Colvin.At a glance … Alathea makes a welcome return as a duo, even when their thoughtful writing on My Roots Go Deeper is occasionally saddled by conventional (though pleasant) acoustic pop/folk arrangements.Track ListingMy Roots Go Deeper
Feels Like a Million Miles
Perfect Love
One More Angel
Morning Birds
Mary's Boy
Be My Guide
Orphan Girl
Farthest Shore
Tell Me

There's been a lot working against Alathea in the four years since their national debut What Light Is All About. For starters, folk-pop isn't exactly receiving much airplay on Christian radio these days. Thus, the young ladies had parted ways with Rocketown Records by 2005, with no further record deal in sight. Moreover, Carrie Theobald left the trio after marrying Garret Buell (Caedmon's Call). And then Alathea became further sidelined when Mandee Radford struggled with a life-threatening illness.

Fortunately, Radford recovered enough for Alathea to continue as a duo, quietly releasing their fourth album My Roots Go Deeper as an independent project. Radford remains the primary vocalist/guitarist and good songwriting still comes naturally to her, occasionally collaborating with familiar writers from the Christian folk scene like Andy Gullahorn, Sandra McCracken, Randall Goodgame, and Shane Williams (Silers Bald). Meanwhile, Cristi Johnson has diversified her instrumental skills (mandolin, dulcimer, harmonica) while developing new context for her harmonies, and occasionally contributing lead vocals, too.

The songs are smartly written expressions of faith about the frustrating-yet-freeing intimacy found in a relationship with God ("Perfect Love"), prayerfully coping with change ("Be My Guide"), and remembering a departed friend ("One More Angel"). Stylistically, it's all set to a pleasant and familiar folk-pop style—perhaps too familiar. Alathea and producer Matt Stanfield don't do quite enough to set the music apart from similar styled artists (Jill Phillips, Mindy Smith, Alison Krauss). A nice cover of Gillian Welch's "Orphan Girl" sounds typical, while "Mary's Boy" feels like standard Appalachian folk with stanzas about Jesus' life and purpose.

Alathea does best when stronger hooks help their thoughtful writing sound less conventional. The engaging title track beautifully looks at the lifelong process of faith as something deeper than surface qualities. "Hurricane" is a terrific upbeat country-pop shuffle that may be Katrina inspired, but still serves as a metaphor for weathering everyday storms. And "Tell Me" works as the perfect marriage of folksy songwriting with bigger, more modern-sounding percussion and production, prayerfully searching for comfort in the midst of life's uncertainties.

The production values are fine despite a muddy indie quality, and despite the folk-pop conventions, the album will appeal to those who appreciate well-crafted lyrics more than a "commercial sound." Such thoughtful songwriting proves that Alathea does indeed draw from deeper roots than most.

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