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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Try

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Aug
  • COMMENTS
Try
Sounds like … gentle, hook-filled organic pop with comparisons to John Mayer, Fernando Ortega, Jars of Clay, and Third DayAt a glance … Try will satisfy fans of Bebo's likeable approach to acoustic pop, though his songwriting has become simpler, not more sophisticatedTrack ListingFinding YouNothing Without YouDisappearTryStanding in Your SilenceOther Side of DaySoldierDriftingHow You Love MeYes I WillBorrow Mine

It's been a couple years of change for Bebo Norman since 2002's Myself When I Am Real, his most successful album to date. For starters, his star has quickly risen through radio singles, Dove nominations, and prominent touring (most notably with MercyMe and Amy Grant). In 2003, the Georgia native, long considered Christian music's most eligible bachelor, finally tied the knot. Now he's attempting a new approach to his craft with his fourth major label release, Try. It's the first time Norman's worked with a producer other than Ed Cash, teaming instead with Matt Bronleewe (Rebecca St. James, Starfield) and Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay). This also marks the first time that the 30-year-old artist has worked with other songwriters to try and push his music into new directions.

Oddly enough, the more things change for Norman, the more they stay the same. His acoustic guitar-based organic pop has been altered ever so slightly, trading folksy mandolins and dulcimers for more ethereal and colorful keyboard touches. This isn't so much a new direction as a natural progression. While Try is indeed a quieter album than Myself, it's certainly not as acoustic or folksy as his debut, Ten Thousand Days, nor is it particularly different from his last two efforts.

As for the songwriting, Norman doesn't stretch into radically new territory. The collaborative songs fit neatly in his catalog, though he continues to gravitate toward Christian pop generalities and away from more introspective ideas. In fact, I wonder if some fans might not get hung up on the technicality that two songs aren't even co-written by Norman. Written by Chad and Jess Cates (Avalon, Rebecca St. James), radio single "Disappear" sounds as catchy as anything on the Myself album, but it's also generic enough for Avalon or MercyMe to cover, simply expressing the desire to hide in the shelter of the Lord. Likewise, will people even notice that Brandon Heath's "Soldier"—a fine song about God's willingness to fight for our souls—is not a Norman original? Or does it matter, since it fits his sound, thus making it his own?

There's plenty more hook-filled pop on Try. The upbeat "Finding You" resembles John Mayer and Jars of Clay with an almost reverse perspective of Norman's 2001 hit "I Am"—"I'm finding you in everything that shines/I'm finding you in between the lines/I'm finding you/You open up my eyes, every time/'Cause your love is so alive." He comes closest to matching the worshipful pop of "Great Light of the World" on "Nothing Without You," an almost hymn-like song of surrender. "Drifting" appropriately conveys a sense of fragility and insecurity with its lyrics and melody, and "Yes I Will" is a song of commitment apparently inspired by taking up our cross (Matthew 16:24).

Norman is at his best when he focuses on writing with more intimacy. The title track ballad, for example, is written in response to his recent marriage: "I'm afraid to grow up, but somewhere inside is the will of a man/And all I've ever wanted was something to give and love if I can." He sings of restoration and healing grace in "Standing in Your Silence," but is it about God or his wife? There are lyrics to suggest both, perhaps saying that this newfound unconditional love serves as the ultimate reminder of the divine. His words become more poetic with "Other Side of Day," a soaring anthem about the hope of eternal life that sounds like a lost track from the Myself sessions: "'Cause the world is just a shadow of the sun/Only you remain the hope of what's to come." The same is true of the encouraging "Borrow Mine," which ranks with his best work.

Perhaps the real change needs to come with public perception of Bebo Norman's artistry. Some have come to expect him to become the next Rich Mullins or Michael Card, or to match the insight of his contemporary Andrew Peterson. But Norman isn't so much a poetic storyteller or profound theologian as he is a likeable pop writer. This is simple, acoustic-based songwriting that relies more on straightforward emotion than on fresh ideas. Many of Norman's fans seem to recognize this, enjoying his warm vocal, his charming personality, and the relatable feelings in his songs. Try is unquestionably a good album, but it indicates an approach by Bebo Norman that is simpler, not more sophisticated.


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