No Place So Far
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
No Place So Far, is a happier album for Erin O'Donnelland her husband Brad, who writes all of Erin's songs with the occasional contribution from his wife. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the making of their last album, not the least of which involving the eventual dissolution of their record label. Now, with a new label, a new job for her husband (he's an A&R executive with Word), and a newborn baby, things seem to be going very well for the O'Donnell family.
Alas, happy times alone do not a good album make. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding No Place So Far, enough to make it one of the most eagerly anticipated projects for the season. With her last album, Scratching the Surface, Erin proved herself capable of the sometimes-edgy alternative pop that artists such as Nichole Nordeman have displayed so well. But with No Place So Far, that edge is almost completely absent, as is anything remotely resembling a hook.
The album begins with "Janie's Garden," a song about going to one's personal place for prayer. It sounds more like Sarah Masen's self-titled debut than anything on Sarah's new album. Another track I rather liked was "Damaged Goods," a wonderful metaphor for our "need for the divine." The song's not as poetic as it could be, but it works. Unfortunately, the rest of the songs on the album were difficult to distinguish from one another, much less Christian pop in general. The album's title track is very bland, and I honestly can't believe it's the first single off this album. Maybe they picked it because the other tracks do little to stand out either. Lyrically, there's a comforting and unifying theme on the album of God's presence in our lives, no matter how uncertain life looks or how big an obstacle is placed in our life. And yet, as comforting and important as this theme is, almost all the songs seem to express that truth in a very similar way, nearly bludgeoning the listener over the head with the unchanging and unfailing presence and love of God.
Producer Glenn Rosenstein (of U2 and Caedmon's Callfame) makes the recording sound clean and clear, but doesn't make the songs sound diverse enough. There's something about it that reminds me of Charlie Peacock's production work—basic acoustic pop with electronic programming and effects. Unfortunately, Peacock's productions all began to sound the same after a while, and the same is true of Rosenstein's work on this album—it sounds like the recordings of countless other Christian artists. Brad O'Donnell's songwriting is fair, but routine. He's got good things to say, but he doesn't say them in a particularly new or interesting way. Erin's voice is certainly pleasant, evoking qualities of Sarah Masen, Amy Grant, Point of Grace, and Nichole Nordeman. Personally, I couldn't detect enough of her character in her voice to make me rave. If I hadn't known better, you could have played "name that artist" with me during this album and I'd have said one of the aforementioned artists before I guessed Erin O'Donnell.
I think it's crucial for artists to distinguish themselves from the work of others, at least lyrically if not also musically. It sounds as though the production, songwriting, and voice on No Place So Farare all following a generic Christian pop formula. I wish I could say something more positive about this album, but frankly it's just too much like other stuff out there. I wouldn't call No Place So Far a bad album, but it does lack a strong reason for me to recommend it, especially with so many other superior recordings available. Some will undoubtedly be touched by these songs, but No Place So Far is pure paint-by-number Christian pop.