In last month’s issue of CCM magazine, we selected Sara Groves’ new disc, "Add to the Beauty" (INO), as our choice for “Album of the Year.” And while we’re not at liberty to mail each and every one of you a copy, we can point you in the right direction. It all starts with the artist herself. …

When you first shake Sara Groves’ hand, you’re sure you’ve met her somewhere before. She reminds you of your best friends from college with her Puma sneakers, hoodie, wispy ponytail and petite frame. Over lunch she munches on Thai food, articulately discusses the book she’s reading about international justice and asks if you’ve heard of this great new singer/songwriter named Ray Lamontagne. Later, as you’re saying goodbye, you find you have the urge to hug her and say, “We should hang out sometime!” But then you remember she’s leaving tomorrow to join Jars of Clay, Chris Rice and author Donald Miller on a 24-city tour. And you realize you probably feel so oddly close to her because — well, to listen to her music is to see inside her soul.

“It’s such a reflection of where I am,” Groves agrees, “and that’s so moveable or always changing, morphing. …”

Honest, heart-to-heart music has been Groves’ trademark since a record called "Conversations" (INO) officially introduced the world to the homegrown-Minnesota-schoolteacher-turned-artist in 2001. She’d already released an independent CD leading to multiple signing offers, but Groves and her husband, Troy (who’s also her manager), were patient until their ministry/artistry clicked with INO Records. Featuring pure, Sarah McLachlan-esque vocals and unabashed lyrics such as “Right now I don't hear so well / And I was wondering if you could speak up / I know that you tore the veil / so I could sit with you in person and hear what you're saying / but right now I just can't hear you” (“Hello God”), "Conversations" was hailed by critics for its brilliant songwriting and established Groves an immediate, devoted fan base. It also catapulted her into the role of mentor/hero to emerging artists such as Bethany Dillon.

“Sara is the kind of artist I could listen to every day for the rest of my life and, honestly, never grow tired of,” says Dillon. “The other day there was something hanging over our house – just heaviness – and I went over and put on 'Conversations,' and it totally changed the atmosphere in the room. Her music welcomes Jesus into a room without it seeming forced or contrived. … There’s such a sweet brokenness and honesty in her music that makes you want to live like that and see the Christ-ward life like she does.”

Artists in the new school aren’t the only ones who have come to “truly appreciate the depth and heart of Sara’s artistry,” as Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine puts it. “I’m a fan of both her music and the heart and passion behind it.” If you, yourself, are a fan of "Conversations," or 2002’s "All Right Here," or 2004’s "The Other Side of Something," you’ve waited on pins and needles for Groves’ much-anticipated fourth studio record, "Add to the Beauty." You’re expecting the familiar poetic thoughtfulness and stark realism, and the feeling that you’re reading letters from a friend or, perhaps, she is reading your letters in her songs.

And you aren’t disappointed. But something’s happened since the last time you heard her. A quiet change has taken place. As a result, Sara’s music – once more melancholy in nature – is now more defined by hope and joy.