- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
It's been three years since Nikki Leonti's 1998 debut, Shelter Me. The then-17 year old has been through many physical, emotional, and spiritual changes since then. In late 1999, Nikki and her fiancé discovered she was pregnant. The unplanned pregnancy and resulting hurried marriage (combined with moving to a new home, financial reversal, and the loss of a loved one) led to a dark, depressing time in Nikki's life. But God used that dark time for good, leading Nikki to a deeper understanding of his grace and love for us fallen human beings. Her self-titled sophomore release is a testament to the lessons she learned from these experiences.
On her new album, Nikki shows a lot of maturity from her debut. Her music is still rooted in adult contemporary, but its less of a teenage adult contemporary sound than her first album. There are hints of Britney Spears and Janet Jackson on some songs, and she sounds more self-assured this time (perhaps because she co-wrote six of the ten songs). Her voice has also deepened a bit, which again reminds me of Britney Spears' alto voice (or strangely enough, Michael Jackson in the song "I Need You"). The production of the Elefante brothers, "Mooki" Taylor (Raze, Londa Larmond), and Tedd T. (Rebecca St. James, Jump 5) adds to the modern rhythm-and-blues influenced sound and makes songs such as "You Can Count On Me" and "You Won't Leave" sound like Janet Jackson tunes. Similarly, "So Don't Worry" has a mid-tempo Britney Spears feel reminiscent of her "Sometimes."
On other songs, Nikki treads along the familiar Christian adult contemporary route. "Your Love Is All I Need" might have been an Avalon cover if I didn't know better, and "Love Lives On" is one of those big voiced power ballads you'd expect from Celine Dion, Natalie Grant, Rachael Lampa, and countless other female Christian artists. The stand-out track on the CD is "Till I See You Again," a beautifully written ballad with a bit of gospel thrown in, about meeting loved ones again in heaven someday. Written by seasoned songwriters Billy Sprague and Joe Beck, the quality of the songwriting sets it apart from the others.
Nikki Leonti is a pretty good album, but it's still a little too much like so many other female Christian pop artists out there today. It's better than some, but it doesn't establish Nikki as an artist as talented as Joy Williams or Rachael Lampa, nor as diverse as Rebecca St. James. It would have helped if Nikki had delved more deeply into her struggles and how she coped with them. Instead, we have a lot of songs about God's love for us and our need to pursue a relationship with him rather than material things—all very true, but all very familiar, having been said in a similar way by so many other artists. A lot of singers talk about getting to point Z after coming from point A, when it's all the points in between that make songs personal and interesting. They can't all write about point Z and expect to sound original. Nevertheless, Nikki Leonti does display growth as an artist, and having endured many significant life stressors in just a couple years, she and her music have come out better and wiser because of them.