- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Music or softball? Ah, if only we all had it as tough as Paige Lewis, a 17-year old who's become something of a minor celebrity in her native Houston, Texas area. Her high school softball team recently played the state championship (they placed second), and that's plenty to keep some teens occupied. Paige, however, has a budding music career in the works, too. She's been writing songs for two years, and as her talent has grown she's been leading worship for several Houston-area churches (including Metro One Bible Study where Caedmon's Call and Watermark often lead worship). Add to the mix the fact that Paige's uncle, David Rice, is a recording artist and producer who's worked with teen popster Mandy Moore (who, ironically, has an album releasing the same day as Paige's). Also factor in that Brent Bourgeois, Word Records executive and producer (who's worked with Cindy Morgan and the Streams project), helped cultivate Paige's songwriting talents as she wrote this album, and it seems the foundation is well laid for her recording career.
The sound of Paige's music is modern pop/rock in the same vein as Alanis Morrisette, Rebecca St. James, and a little bit of Lisa Loeb. In fact, Paige's vocal technique and production sound so much like Alanis's lighter material at times that it's uncanny. One might even complain that she sounds too much like Alanis Morrisette because of the programmed drums layered with electric guitars, except there's no one else doing the Alanis sound right now—not even Alanis (who is supposedly releasing a new album in late 2001.). So even though Paige's sound isn't particularly original, it's a welcome breath of fresh air to an often stale Christian music market.
Though the album clocks in at a mere 36 minutes, most of the songs on Paige's debut are catchy, edgy, and memorable. Equally stunning is the lyrical quality of Paige's music. The songs are vertical, but not your typical praise and worship stuff. They feel more like intimate conversations with God, asking lots of questions and finding a few answers in the process. For example, the album's opener, "Hide Myself in You," easily could have been a simple song of living completely for the Lord, using the same tired rhetoric so many Christian artists use. Instead, Paige infuses the song with a touch of teenage angst and frustration: "Sometimes I think it'd be easier to die for You than to live for You." Such wonderful honesty makes her songs original and allows for an easy connection with her teenage peers.
Other album highlights include "Power In Your Hand," a song that celebrates God's sovereignty and providence, and "Darkness Into Light," which is a prayer for guidance through the dark times. Both of these songs, along with "Hide Myself in You," have the biggest Alanis influence in their sound. Then there's "So Not About Me," a song about keeping our focus on God's will which sounds like a warped version of No Doubt. There are a few odd chords in it, but the instrumentation is intriguing, especially the Glock that lends it an almost Elvis Costello-like sound. "Cry Holy" is a song of self-reflection, including the realization that our lives are flawed as well as a passionate plea for humility and holiness. Its dark electronic sound fits these ideas perfectly, as does the gentle, prayerful bridge. The interesting praise song "True" has a classic artsy-pop sound, featuring a slick electric guitar that duets with Paige on the chorus. However, the song is marred by some badly mixed handclap sounds in the beginning. Most all the songs are directed to God, with the exception of "Here in the Light," a Beatlesque song about a friend who's turned away from Christ that includes a plea for her to return to the arms of God.
I'm blown away at how often the wrong song is chosen to be the radio single, this time referring to "Heart of Hearts," the album's only misstep. It's not a bad song, but it's also the least interesting and simplest song on the album—very sanitized in sound. I was surprised my own local Christian radio station wasn't playing Paige, but when I learned (to my surprise) that "Heart of Hearts" was the lead single, it made sense why many stations aren't picking up Paige yet. I'm hoping Paige is going to get a lot more attention with the next single, which hopefully will be "Power in Your Hand."
Kudos to Paige for solid songwriting and to producers David Rice and Mark Hammon for their impressive (though occasionally rough) production … and playing, since they handled most all the instruments. This album is radio friendly (other than the one song) and Paige's abilities as a songwriter are as impressive as 16-year-old Katy Hudson's were on her recent debut. Paige's lyrics are in many ways perfect for teens, not too mature to distance her from her peers, and not so simple that they sound clichéd or trite. Instead they're filled with honesty, longing, passion, and angst. When you listen to a debut of such a high caliber from an artist of such a young age, you can't help but think, If she's this good now, how will she sound in the future? If the production can be improved while maintaining its edge, and if her songwriting only improves with time, we'll be listening to Paige for many years to come.