Wide Wide World
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Oct
Erin O'Donnell has had an up-and-down career, coming close to breaking big on multiple occasions. Her first two albums (1996 and '98) were released on Cadence Records, which folded just when things were going well for her. She received a second chance with Word Records in 2001, but
In some ways, it's surprising that O'Donnell hasn't enjoyed more success. She has an impressive and expressive voice capable of handling a wide range of genres—as edgy as Alanis Morrissette on one song, as soft-spoken as Amy Grant on the next. Makes sense, as she is a trained jazz vocalist from University of Miami. That's where she met her husband, Brad O'Donnell, who is a prominent record label executive in Nashville—formerly with Word, he's now the senior director of Sparrow's A&R staff.
O'Donnell's husband has always been involved in writing her music, and sadly, that's a weakness in some of her songs. Brad adequately captures Erin's thoughts and ideas through music, and the melodies are pleasant enough. But some of his songs are just more typical Christian AC—serviceable radio singles, sure, but memorable? "Thank You (Get It Right)" is a well-intentioned but overly simplistic pop song of gratefulness for all of God's blessings. "You Knew" wrestles with experiencing pain in light of God's plans, but many artists have done better on the subject. To be fair, though, "You Knew" nicely expresses doubt and faith: "Something's tearing open the atmosphere/A hurting that can never come undone/Someone who was here is now gone for good/And I am wondering how to carry on."
It's not that Brad O'Donnell can't write a good song. The title track, undoubtedly one of many to come from the industry inspired by Rick Warren's best-selling
Another album highlight is the Nathan Lee-penned "I Love How You Love Me," which bears strong resemblance to Faith Hill or Patty Smythe ("Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough"). It's a formulaic country-pop song saved by honest and straightforward lyrics, combined with Erin's fine vocal delivery. The album's closer, "You Give," is a beautiful hymn-like piano ballad that especially allows O'Donnell to give a stirring and convincing performance.
But the album's real ace in the hole is a handful of tracks collaboratively written by O'Donnell and Cindy Morgan (another one-time Word labelmate). These three songs strongly bear Morgan's fingerprints, with a power and intelligence that neatly fit O'Donnell's passionate vocals (which often resemble Morgan's). "And So I Am" is playfully creative and catchy piano pop, challenging women to be more than "just" moms, wives, or employees, but to be faithful and loving servants of God. "Golden" cleverly illustrates how God can make trial and tragedy work for good: "Two left feet trying to walk the narrow/In this world full of twists and turns/Where You will lead my heart wants to follow/So every day begins and ends with hope." Parents will especially enjoy "This Is My Prayer," a wonderful blessing that wishes children the best as they grow in the Lord.