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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Are You Ready?

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Apr
Are You Ready?
Sounds like … a very diverse blend of pop, jazz, rock, gospel, funk, and R&B that combines the pop/rock/gospel sounds of Eric Clapton (his pop music) and Oleta Adams.At a Glance … despite some occasionally weak lyrics, this independently produced album delivers stunning musicianship and eclecticism not heard often enough in Christian music.

Kirk and Joni Bovill have been married since 1995, and together their unique backgrounds have led to a unique ministry. Though Kirk looks rather like a British bohemian in several of his photos, he's originally from Nebraska—vocally, he does sound a little bit like Eric Clapton and Elvis Costello. As the songwriter of the duo, Kirk brings the perspective of a newly born again Christian to the ministry, having accepted Christ as recently as 1996. Joni, in contrast, grew up in a spiritual and musical home—her brother Henry is one of the members of the Grammy-nominated Williams Brothers. She also grew up in the midst of poverty and racism in Mississippi, but those experiences have helped to enhance her ministry and message today. With a wonderfully soulful voice reminiscent of Oleta Adams, Joni brings an effective gospel influence to the Bovill's sound.

Together this interracial couple offers a wide perspective on the goodness of God through all life's issues, and it serves them well that their artistry is equally diverse. Like their first album, their sophomore effort Are You Ready is a delightfully eclectic blend of pop, jazz, rock, gospel, funk, and R&B. This broad musical range is demonstrated in the album's opening salvo. "Let Go" starts things off with a slick guitar hook that drives this energetic pop tune. It leads to the funky gospel jazz of "Hold On," which also features elements of hip-hop, followed by the quiet title track, a contemplative combination of smooth jazz and inspirational pop.

Later on, Kirk sings the upbeat rocker "Here I Go," which oddly enough recalls the pop/rock styles of Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, and Rich Mullins all at the same time. His voice also propels the wonderfully catchy "Do You Believe (I Do)," which after a short gospel reggae piece called "Faith," launches into classic acoustic pop reminiscent of Blues Traveler, Van Morrison, or early Neil Diamond. Joni's tracks lead more to the soulful side of the Bovills' sound. Though there have been many musical interpretations of "The Lord's Prayer," this gentle rendering is a beautiful and sophisticated blend of smooth jazz and pop. She sounds equally wonderful on the album's closing arrangement of "Amazing Grace," which shifts from a bluesy first verse into an impressive rock gospel jam.

Hopefully it's clear that Kirk and Joni aren't simply shifting styles from song to song—they're effortlessly blending styles within a song. Are You Ready also wouldn't be nearly as good if this talented couple wasn't surrounded by equally impressive musicians. A simple acoustic pop song like "You Are My Rock" is made irresistible thanks to Joni's vocals, the thrilling drum fills of Thomas Pridgen, and the subtle improvisations of producer/keyboardist Randy Emata and lead guitarist Cedricke Dennis. "That Is Why" begins unremarkably, but evolves into a powerhouse jazz-gospel jam worthy of Dave Matthews Band,including the awesome skills of bassist Victor Little, saxophonist Tom Saviano, and the horns of Mic Gillette. This album truly celebrates excellent musicianship alongside the goodness of God.

Are You Ready only suffers from occasionally weak lyrical clichés and catchphrases. You can tell from the titles that many of these songs are simple expressions of praise for all that Christ has done. The title of "Just Keepin' It Real" is groan-inducing in itself, though it was almost certainly intended as a theme song for their ministry of the same title. The simplistic lyrics and their mature, sophisticated sound (out of place on today's Christian radio) are probably the only things keeping this duo from being signed to a major label with wider distribution. While it's understandable that not everyone will plug into Kirk and Joni's unique style, it's also unfortunate. The talent and quality behind this independent project is good enough to warrant a review among the other major releases. Likewise, if you appreciate eclectic and impressive musicianship, it'll be worth going a little out of your way to give this disc a try.