This Is Who I Am
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2006 1 Oct
Aside from their faith and profession, you'd think Avalon and dc Talk have little in common. Add one new development to the list of trivia – members of both groups are pursuing solo careers for the time being. Fear not. While dc Talk's next reunion (aside from the recently released single "Let's Roll") has yet to be charted, Avalon is still planning a new album for fall 2003. And though there's no word yet of a Michael Passons solo project, the other three are attempting personal forays into the music scene. Janna Long's album is around the corner, and Cherie Adams has left the group to pursue a long-term solo ministry; she's since been replaced by Melissa Greene. First out of the gates is Jody McBrayer, and his seemingly appropriately titled This Is Who I Am; the song which inspires the album title is actually an illumination on the life and personality of Christ.
The impetus for Jody's solo project came in September of 2000, when his father passed away. Clyde "Sonny" McBrayer was profoundly influential in shaping his son's spiritual life and ministry, and his death left Jody with a wealth of thoughts and emotions that weighed heavily on the vocalist's heart. As it was with dc Talk's Michael Tait when he lost his father, this fueled the inspiration of new songs that were too personalized for Avalon. Starting with the universal theme of loss (death, broken relationships, etc.), Jody began to realize his vision for a solo album that communicates the Gospel more effectively to non-believers.
Yes, I did include Enrique Iglesias in that list. Jody reveals that he has a strong Spanish heritage on his mother's side of the family, and the influence is very present on
For the most part, Jody sticks to funky R&B and inspirational pop. The aforementioned "This Is Who I Am" bears a strong resemblance to Michael Jackson and Tonéx (Am I the only one who thinks a funky R&B track sung from Christ's perspective sounds a little weird?). "Take a Step (1, 2, 3)" shares a similar Tonéx-like sound that almost recalls Janet Jackson on the chorus. It encourages non-Christians to simply be open to the idea of talking about faith with believers, explaining that Christians are about building relationships and not advancing some secret society. "Shake It" takes a more urgent tone in sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear it: "Let's talk about it, before it's too late / Don't push it to the side so that it can hide / What's done in the dark needs come to light / A heart full of hate's gonna waste a life." The Katinas make a guest appearance as backing vocalists on the song, which has a George Michael dance-pop vibe to it.
I'm sure Sparrow didn't want Jody to completely disassociate himself from the sound of Avalon, which is probably why "To Ever Live Without Me" was included on the album. This testimony of the depth of Christ's love feels like a typical Avalon adult-contemporary ballad. Though fans of the vocal group may appreciate it, Jody and Sparrow didn't need to cater to Avalon's usual sound. The Cindy Morgan and Dan Muckala-penned "The Only Thing That Matters" is a far more beautifully written and effective piano ballad that doesn't beat the listener over the head with the artistic connection. Pop connoisseurs also will appreciate the soulful "There For Me," which was written by Mariah Carey with legendary songwriters David Foster and Diane Warren as a tribute to those who've had an important impact on our lives (in Jody's case, his father and Christ).
If Jody's album is an indicator, then the Avalon solo projects should prove interesting as they allow the vocalists to break out of the shell of their primary group. For example, I always knew Jody had a terrific voice, but hearing him solo confirms the impressive range he has – he really can sound like an R&B alto at times. The songs feel more personalized and deeper than Avalon's typical fare, which makes sense because Jody co-wrote the majority of the album (Avalon's songs are written by non-members). Too bad that not all of the songs are well-written. Though Jody didn't write it, "I Never Knew" is a powerful gospel R&B ballad that it very personal to him, but it's rife with pop music clichés: "You are the air I breathe, You are my everything / You are my only hope, the wind beneath my wings." I also wonder if, as with Avalon's recent remix album, fans will appreciate a recording that swings from inspirational ballads to songs such as "Unspeakable Joy," a techno-gospel jam that gets a little noisy and features a guest rap in the middle of it. Personally, I prefer this to Avalon. It's more varied and interesting than the music of Avalon, more relevant to the popular culture. It also allows Jody to loosen up more vocally, to display some artistic depth, and to let people know who he is – a talented vocalist, a loving son, and a child of God.