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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Postcards

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Postcards
Sounds like … the artful piano pop of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, or Kate Bush by way of the country-flavored acoustic pop favored by Susan Ashton, Amy Grant, Wynonna, and Jill PhillipsAt a glance … crafted with passion and excellence, Postcards represents another strong step in the artistic evolution of singer/songwriter Cindy MorganTrack Listing Deep Enough Postcards Glory Where You Are Mother Oh What Love Eternal Sunshine Dig Up Come Home The River

There just aren't many Christian musicians able to sustain a career for ten to fifteen years. Record labels too often drop them as soon as they release an album that doesn't market well. It's then hard for artists to score a second chance with another major record label with the first failure glaring on their resumes. You'd also be understandably hard pressed to find many Christian artists who have dramatically evolved their sound over their career, choosing to safely stick to what will most likely earn radio airplay instead of broadening horizons.

Cindy Morgan is the rare artist that has managed to overcome all those barriers. She debuted in 1992 on Word with Real Life, relying on programmed pop and R&B vaguely reminiscent of Paula Abdul or Janet Jackson. Morgan would eventually pull a 180 and reveal herself to be a gifted songwriter and musician through 1995's Under the Waterfall and 1996's Listen, demonstrating a flair for arty piano-pop that resembled Tori Amos and Kate Bush. A precursor to Nichole Nordeman and Sara Groves, she was unfortunately dropped from Word two albums later when 2001's Elementary failed to connect, perhaps due to its overly mature and less marketable approach. It was nevertheless a well-timed hiatus, allowing time to focus on being a wife and mother.

After further refining her skills through guest appearances and freelance songwriting, Morgan returns via a new deal with Reunion Records to release her seventh album, Postcards. You'll find more of the same sophisticated songwriting and passionate voice that she's known for, yet it also reveals another stylistic stretch for her. Collaborating with producer Wayne Kirkpatrick, the acclaimed songwriter, who grew up in rural Tennessee, has embraced her Appalachian folk heritage. Morgan typically writes songs from the piano. This time she primarily wrote with the dulcimer, and the album also utilizes distinctly acoustic instrumentation like the ukulele, manditar, melodica, and Weisenborn Hawaiian guitar, not to mention the considerable ability of guitar great Gordon Kennedy (White Heart).

Postcards is an album primarily about self-discovery and reconciliation—one that fans of Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz can appreciate. The poignant and picturesque title track, closely resembling Susan Ashton's sound, depicts a prodigal teenage daughter in search of purpose, showing that some of us only seem to find and appreciate God after leaving him. With "Mother," Morgan gives a more personal example of parental reconciliation, drawing deeply for one of her most straightforward and autobiographical songs to date. That correlates with "Dig Up," a song about soul searching to find the person God intended us to be, more in step musically with Morgan's familiar upbeat piano pop.

Drenched in bluesy twang, "Where You Are" effectively illustrates how God can meet us in life's darkest places, using imagery that's more gritty and colorful to paint a more dramatic picture of grace. The more hymn-like piano ballad "Oh What Love" is an ode to God's unconditional care, inspired by a visit with the Tennessee Prison for Women ministry. These themes all culminate with the gentle, sparsely arranged "Come Home," which overcomes the lie that God won't accept us as we are—"I guess we're all miracles still in the making/ For each moonless night, there's a dawn that is breaking/Until we all find ourselves there in the arms of the angels waking." Postcards closes with the dark piano ballad "The River," reminiscent of the haunting Appalachian folk song "What Wondrous Love" with its comforting image of God washing our troubles away.

Other highlights include the explosive "Enough," which takes potshots at examples of greed and pessimism as a reminder to be content with what God has granted us. "Eternal Sunshine" sweetly ponders the mystery of heaven, and the comforting "Glory" has strong potential for funerals in much the same way as the gospel classic "I'll Fly Away." Really, the only track that falls short is the Psalm 42-inspired rocker "Deep," which sounds raw and dated enough to resemble Considering Lily's 1997 album.

Unfortunately for Morgan, this is not the straightforward pop that Christian radio craves these days, nor is it her strongest project, lacking some of the creative poetry and production that so distinguished her last three efforts. But Postcards is certainly an album crafted with passion and excellence, satisfying those hungering for more sophistication in their Christian pop and further demonstrating a genuine talent that can persevere while also taking chances with her artistry.

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