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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Living Room

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Dec
Living Room
Sounds like … straight-laced, predictable pop for fans of artists such as 4Him, Greg Long, Dan Fogelberg, Russ Lee, Steve Green, and Michael BoltonAt a Glance … Watson's latest will appeal to longtime fans of inspirational pop, but it offers little artistic ingenuity or relevance to today's popular music scene.

Wayne Watson certainly has accomplished a lot in his career, which thus far has spanned more than 20 years, yielding four prestigious Dove Awards and 23 #1 hit singles. He's best known for his emotional songwriting style, joined by his smooth and slightly soulful voice. This sound places him in the peer group of artists such as Newsong, Bob Carlisle, and 4HIM. Gems such as "Watercolor Ponies," "For Such a Time as This," "When God's People Pray," and his triumphant duet with Sandi Patty "Another Time, Another Place" have had immeasurable impact on his faithful fan base and have become classics in the contemporary Christian music realm.

Since the release of 1993's The Very Best, the remainder of the '90s have seen Watson varying his styles, from employing the production genius of Michael Omartian for some tracks on 1995's sophisticated pop album Field of Souls, to returning to his introspective roots on The Way Home two years later, to a more laid-back pop approach on his 2000 self-titled effort. As this year comes to a close, Watson's poised to release his latest collection of songs titled Living Room, his first album for Spring Hill Music and quite possibly his most heartfelt. Much of his self-admitted affection for the record stems from it being a family affair — his son Neal produced it, his other son Adam helped co-write a couple of tracks, and his wife, Lynn, inspired a tender track called "The Promise."

Even though it's hard to brush such sentiments aside when listening to Living Room, the project sure would have been more inviting had Watson's sonic palette been a bit more challenging or created with more current pop sensibilities in mind. Watson, like so many other inspirational pop artists, falls several years behind the mainstream trends with this release. The fact that the bulk of his success came in the late '80s/early '90s may have something to do with his choice to remain in that comfort zone, but even so, fellow contemporary artists, from Bryan Adams to Sting to Bryan Ferry, all have been able to move on from the glossy pop sounds of that time (you know it's dated if Michael Bolton and Dan Fogelberg are still the most natural mainstream comparisons). For instance, the opening track, "Grace," suffers from insipid sequencing, drab vocals, and at times, embarrassingly dated synthesized piano trickles. Although a bit more lively, "Cry of My Heart" doesn't have much to offer outside of a generic acoustic-based arrangement, while the female background/studio vocalist sounds as though she could have sung the theme song for just about any TV sitcom on the air ten years ago. "Somebody Sing" is a slight improvement as Watson cuts loose vocally just a bit, but unfortunately his studio musicians don't follow suit, instead sounding a bit stiff.

As the disc progresses, "Something's Gotta Humble You" stands out, but once again, for the wrong reasons. It's yet another example of Watson taking a time warp back ten years to when the track's funky beats and blue-eyed soul vocals would have fit right in with releases by Clay Crosse or Bryan Duncan from that era. The following "Long Way From the Manger" is a bit more interesting as Watson adds what sounds like a live piano and string section, even though the unnecessary water drops and squishy drum sequencing would have been best left off. A nearly identical backdrop exists for "Dreaming Again," and Watson's clichéd phrases of putting behind past baggage, moving forward with life, and following your dreams don't exactly help his cause.

Despite the lack of musical creativity and typical lyrical framework on the recording, Watson deserves credit on two occasions for his songwriting smarts. First up, he earns high marks for composing a touching love song to his wife ("The Promise") which follows the tradition of Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here" or Michael W. Smith's "The Other Side of Me." Though the "sappy love song" factor exists in all three compositions, it's far more appealing and beautiful when directed towards a spouse; you can expect to hear Wayne's song at weddings and receptions in the years to come. The other standout tune worth mentioning is the disc's piano-tinged finale, "Steal Me Away," which Watson co-wrote with his son. Adam began with the chorus of the song on one of those days when the distractions of life were closing in on him, while Wayne filled in the verses chronicling how the presence of God is a safe haven from such daily dilemmas and dramas. He sings: "Steal me away, steal me away / From the devils and the dealers that cannot satisfy me / Steel me away, steal me away / And wrap me in your arms where nothing else can steal me away."

Those two appealing cuts simply aren't enough reason to recommend this collection to the general populace, though die-hard fans of Wayne Watson and the generic inspirational pop sound probably will at least want to check out this recording for themselves. Longtime fans will especially appreciate the bonus four-song acoustic disc included free as a purchase premium (featuring "Somewhere in the World," "Watercolor Ponies," "Home Free," and "A Beautiful Place"). Check out this disc if you fall into the category of those who must own anything and everything Watson releases; otherwise, you may want to bypass Living Room.