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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Right with You

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 May
Right with You
Sounds like … occasionally jazzy folk-pop resembling John Mayer, MercyMe, David Wilcox, and Charlie PeacockAt a glance … while it may be a little too easy listening or mellow for some, Rogness' good debut displays a refreshingly honest and thoughtful approach to songwritingTrack ListingChildhood EyesCatch MeYou Are My JourneyYou Never StopSimply DivineMy Little FaithTalk to MeForgiveness Looks GoodWhat Will You SaySatisfied

There are some strong comparisons to be made between Joe Rogness and Sara Groves. Both are singer/songwriters from Minneapolis, both have worked with producer Nate Sabin, and both have left the security of their day job to pursue music ministry full time. A self-taught guitarist and accomplished pianist, Rogness was inspired by the acoustic pop of David Wilcox and began writing music in high school, entertaining the idea of one day pursing a music career. Though he did perform locally and served as a worship leader in Minneapolis, Rogness ended up pursuing work in the business world, developing a lucrative career in sales that would have given him a "very comfortable early retirement."

A personal retreat in the mountains of California forced him to reexamine his priorities. After wrestling with abandoning financial security and the ability to comfortably provide for his wife and three children, Rogness decided God was calling him to pursue a full-time career in music. In 2003, he independently released his debut, Right with You, produced by Sabin. In the process, Sara Groves advised him to develop his music ministry slowly on a church level. Smart thinking—gain a following, knowing that you will earn grassroots support and a larger audience if God wills it. Perhaps this is the start of something bigger for Rogness, now that his album is being distributed nationally.

Personal expectations play a large role in enjoying Right with You. At first listen, you can't help but compare Rogness to John Mayer. They have a similar jazzy approach to folk-pop and both have soft smoky vocals. You can hear it strongly in a handful of the album's songs. "Childhood Eyes" has an acoustic guitar riff much like Mayer's "No Such Thing." Both "You Are My Journey" and "My Little Faith" have similarly jazzy guitar licks, and "Talk to Me" sounds like the pop/rock approach heard on Mayer's Heavier Things. But the comparison should end there before listeners mistakenly think that Rogness has Mayer's gift of radio-friendly pop hooks or poetic way with words. As a songwriter, Rogness has more in common with the acoustic pop of MercyMe or even Charlie Peacock—it's AC pop that may be too simple or mellow for some.

But multiple listens prove especially rewarding with this album. Dig deeper and you'll discover that Rogness has an honest approach to lyrics that is refreshing—not quite as thoughtful or introspective as Groves or Nichole Nordeman, but it approaches the same neighborhood. Especially touching is the prayerful "Forgiveness Looks Good," inspired by another couple damaged by an extramarital affair. It candidly reminds us that forgiveness is not just a decision, but also a long process of healing and reconciliation. Another standout is "What Will You Say," a slow jazz song reminiscent of Sting at his mellowest that explores our motivations for obeying the Lord and doing good.

The quiet and contemplative "Simply Divine" marvels at how God can take the ugliness of Christ's suffering and death and make it into something holy: "Only you could take the shape of the cross and make it something beautiful." Rogness' role as father helped inspire "You Never Stop," which looks at our impatience with disdain and our heavenly Father's love with wonder. "You Are My Journey" similarly contrasts our fickle perspectives with God's faithfulness in our lifelong faith walk with him. The only song not written or co-written by Rogness is Nate Sabin's "Catch Me," a pretty inspirational ballad—with backing vocals by Groves—that declares our desperate need for God.

Though well recorded and produced, Right with You was originally created as an independent project. Not everyone is going to warm up to the mellow and mature sound, and it's not likely to compete with the glossier production of MercyMe on the radio. If songwriting is more important to you than sound, however, give this a try. Rogness is off to a great start here, and he's only likely to improve as he develops his skills as a wordsmith while varying his sound and instrumentation with excitement.