Artist: Audrey Assad
Title: Heart
Label: Sparrow Records

If for some reason, singer/songwriter Audrey Assad flew under the radar with her 2010 debut The House You’re Building—not likely, since the album was named to numerous best-of lists—the secret is out now. Assad’s sophomore effort, Heart, seals the deal: she’s one to watch. Heart, appropriately releasing on Valentine’s Day, is a tasty blend of pop and folk, sprinkled with hints of jazz and gospel. It’s a compelling collection of intimate songs with universal resonance, arranged simply so the sentiment shines through.

Assad’s piano-driven style, combined with her poetic lyrics and pop sensibilities, immediately recalls singer/songwriters Nichole Nordeman, Natalie Merchant, or Sara Groves. But there are enough unexpected moments on Heart to make her difficult to pin down. A track like album opener “Blessed Are the Ones” features a smart layering of piano over drum track, a la David Gray. Assad’s lyric, a meditation on charity, is poignant: “So let’s build a house with turned-out doors, so we can share what love affords, pour ourselves out like a wine that we’ve been saving.”

Lead single “Sparrow” riffs on the classic “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” lyric—“I sing because I’m happy, I  sing because I’m free, for his eye is on the sparrow”—for a delicate, powerful result. With her voice soaring on the chorus while the piano rolls beneath it, it’s a little bit Christy Nockels and a little bit Fernando Ortega, and deserves every second of airplay it should garner. “No Turning Back” follows a similar format, leaping headlong into a fresh take on “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” on the bridge. Assad’s even got a little Judy Collins in her, as on “O My Soul.” It’s this blending of subdued, precise brush strokes with sunnier pop instincts that makes Heart such a repeat-worthy album. “Won Me Over,” which follows “O My Soul,” is one such lighter song.

With the help of producer Marshall Altman, Assad has put together a collection of work that completely triumphs. Heart not only serves to further define Assad’s signature style, but should confirm her status as an artist of formidable talent.