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Long Way Home

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Oct
Long Way Home
Sounds like … the adult contemporary pop of Nichole Nordeman, Joy Williams, Sarah McLachlan, and Anna Nalick, along with the soulful side of Norah Jones, Rachel Yamagata, and Joss Stone.At a glance … more personable songwriting, varied styles, and balanced production make this Ginny Owens' strongest album since her 1999 debut.Track Listing Waiting for Tomorrow Fellow Traveler Long Way Home Welcome to Love Wonderful Wonder Let the Silence Speak Tyranny Pieces I Bring Everything Live Once

Since breaking onto the national scene with 1999's Without Condition, Ginny Owens has drawn much acclaim as a singer/songwriter, garnering a Dove Award for Best New Artist in 2000. She hasn't released a "bad" studio album since, but 2002's Something More and 2004's Beautiful didn't quite measure up to the potential for greatness reflected on Owens' debut. Long Way Home puts her back on track.

For starters, it's easily the best studio production since her debut. The exquisitely recorded Blueprint EP notwithstanding, many found Something More overproduced and Beautiful a little too bland. Long Way Home still features the fine work of longtime collaborator Monroe Jones, but Owens is billed as co-producer for the first time, and she also teams with Will Hunt (Shane & Shane) and Vince Emmett (Paul Colman) on half the tracks. The result is not a radical departure, still combining electronics with earthiness in a familiar pop and soul blend, but it does more than ever feel true to Owens' style.

More importantly, Owens opens up more in her songwriting, and while she's always been honest in her craft, she's never been this personable or vulnerable. "I'm finding comfort in the fact that I'm always going to be slightly uncomfortable," says Owens. A great comment, but not the kind of insight you typically find in her songwriting. Now she says she's learned to be more herself, and it's helped her make the songs more her own.

While every one of her albums has had a standout ballad, "Wonderful Wonder" might be her greatest yet—and clearly one that's closer to her heart than most. Finally we get an incredibly moving song about faith from Owens' unique perspective as a blind person: "I don't know the ocean's crystal blue/And I don't climb the mountains for the view/Or wish upon the stars above my head/Or bear witness to a marvelous sunset/But the very thought of things I've never seen is all it takes to bring me to my knees." Nearly as poignant, yet more surprising musically, is "Pieces," a song she co-wrote with Wayne Kirkpatrick. With gutsy lyrics about a soul in need of repair, she resorts to an edgy rock sound that effectively compliments her bluesy side—she really should delve into this more often.

"Let the Silence Speak" finds Owens tackling our natural aversion to silence with Nichole Nordeman-styled introspection, reminding us that those are the times we can best connect with God. "I Bring Everything" lists the things in her life that she longs to surrender to the Lord; it's a soaring track similar to Coldplay, though it feels a tad short with its abrupt ending. In "Fellow Traveler," she likens the spiritual journey to one beggar showing another where the bread is, while "Waiting for Tomorrow" smartly observes that looking ahead too often can prevent us from living for the present.

Owens indulges her soulful side in the title ballad, matching the style with hopeful lyrics about our need to live and love together in peace. More impressive is the darker sounding "Tyranny," using soulful piano pop to convey false security and the fear of being outspoken and accepted. The atmospheric finale "Live Once" sounds like a contemporized Norah Jones, though its lengthy seven-minute run would have benefited more from some soulful vocal improv in addition to the mellow guitar solo.

Long Way Home isn't unlike recent offerings from Nordeman (Brave) and Joy Williams (Genesis), putting Owens in good company. Her only weakness is a tendency to become a tad generic in her songwriting. A song like "Welcome to Love" may as well have been recorded by Point of Grace or Avalon, celebrating the freedom found in Christ without presenting anything fresh or interesting. It shows that while Owens is certainly capable of introspection and insight, she could also stand to become even more so, like Chris Rice or Sara Groves. Similarly, though capable of great musical diversity, she tends to reside in the safety of adult contemporary pop. Let's hear her tackle soul, gospel, rock, blues, and jazz with confidence and regularity—not every track needs to sound like it was reigned in creatively for Christian radio.

Nevertheless, Long Way Home is an excellent rebound—the sophomore album you wish was released four years ago. These songs reveal a new level of depth to Owens, both musically and lyrically. Provided she continues to step outside her comfort zone, she's one step closer to making her masterpiece.

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