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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

All Right Here

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Aug
All Right Here
Sounds like … thoughtful and heartfelt inspirational/folk pop that runs the gamut from Joni Mitchell and Carole King to Amy Grant and Sarah McLachlan.At a Glance … a brilliantly written, well-performed step forward from Sara's breakthrough album, Conversations, confirming her as one of Christian music's greatest songwriters.

"Can she do it again?" That's undoubtedly the question on the minds of many who found Sara Groves's previous album, Conversations, brilliant and engaging. The former high school English and history teacher turned pop artist blew away music critics and industry insiders when she released Conversations independently back in 1999. Sara's songwriting is intellectual yet engaging, heartfelt but not mushy. Like a great novelist, she's able to communicate the things we all feel as Christians, the thoughts that run through our heads on a day-to-day basis. Record labels courted Sara with the hopes she would sign with them, and eventually she settled on then-new INO records (now also the home for MercyMe and Sonicflood). Could Sara possibly meet the expectations set by Conversations with her follow-up album, All Right Here?

I didn't think it possible, but Sara has managed to top herself with All Right Here. If there was any flaw to Conversations, it's that it was a little too soft and mellow. I heard some people describe it as "churchy" and "simple" after the first listen. Admittedly, it probably could have used a couple more upbeat songs such as "The Word." For All Right Here, Sara reunited with producer Nate Sabin to match the tone of the first album while adding more energy and musicianship to the mix. They actually succeeded in adding variety and modernizing the sound a bit without altering their already successful formula and alienating the staunchest fans of Conversations. The project's eclecticism naturally stems from Sara's songwriting. Where Conversations was more devotional in her musings and sound, All Right Here reflects all of Sara's life — faith, doubts, prayer, family, worship.

And once again, Sara manages to score a home run with most every track, which is another way of saying that I haven't got the room here to fully express my love for this album. The opening song, "Less Like Scars," is a wonderful song about perspective. The antithesis of "Painting Pictures of Egypt" from her previous album, Sara explains how the pain and discomfort that shape us over time lead to the peace and joy we find in Jesus: "And in your hands, the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like character." This song also is a perfect showcase of Sara's growth as an artist, beginning with the gentle inspirational pop so common on Conversations, gradually adding percussion, electric guitars, and eventually a solid contemporary pop/rock arrangement by the song's end. There's a similar upbeat pop/rock sound on "All Right Here," which features country-flavored pop/rock in the same vein as Amy Grant, The Carpenters, and Faith Hill. The song is Sara's poetic exploration of the things that accumulate in the human heart. No, not cholesterol, but things such as compassion, curiosity, hurt, pride, doubts, faith, and of course, love. If you enjoyed the buoyant folk-jazz of Sara's hit single "How Is It Between Us," you'll enjoy the similar but more Beatles-esque sound of "Just One More Thing," which reminds us to place love and relationships ahead of the endless demands of this world. There's a lot to identify with in this song.

Probably the most different-sounding track on the album is "Tornado," a bluesy folk song about destructive lifestyles and the need for grace and forgiveness. Complete with a rousing musical jam at the end (featuring steel guitar by Phil Madeira, violin, and piano), it's reminiscent of Rich Mullins and his days with the Ragamuffin band. On the extremely rhythmic "Maybe There's a Loving God," Sara sounds like a cross between Carole King and Tori Amos in a song that wrestles with depression and doubt about the concept of a loving Father. The message that God can love us despite our selfishness and questioning makes this a great one to share with non-Christians, or anyone wrestling with their faith. The same is true of Sara's descriptive ode to the peace that passes understanding in "This Peace": "It's something so elusive, something close but far away / It's the home that I can't live in yet, somewhere in outer space / And sometimes I barely miss it when I walk into the room / The curtains are still swaying and I feel the air move." I've never heard anyone sound as much like Sarah McLachlan as Sara does on "Fly," a love song for her husband Troy in gratitude for his strength and support. There's a similar McLachlan sound on the bluesy "You Did That For Me," a simple song of Christ's gift to all humanity written by Christian folk artist Pierce Pettis (but never recorded until now).

I would be remiss in failing to mention the simple and sweet "You Cannot Lose My Love," as wonderful a mother-to-child lullaby of unconditional love as I've heard: "You will lose your confidence / In times of trial, your common sense / You may lose your innocence / But you cannot lose my love." The album also features two terrific worship songs, the bouncy first single, "First Song That I Sing," which pays subtle homage to Amy Grant's and Rich Mullins's "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," and Nate Sabin's "Jesus, You're Beautiful," which Sara delivers with the tenderness of Joni Mitchell or Karen Carpenter. Both songs are far more interesting than most modern-worship songs today, making me hope Sara will record an album of original hymns someday.

All of this leads me to wonder if we need more English teachers turned songwriters … as long as they understand melodic hooks and pop music as Sara does. Sara Groves is not an artist for listeners looking for energetic modern pop, heavy rock, or a beat you can dance to. She is, however, exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of introspective songwriting and timeless musicianship. All Right Here dispels any doubts about Sara's future as an artist. She's the real deal — a brilliant songwriter worth mentioning in the same breath as Amy Grant, Michael Card, and Rich Mullins.