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Prodigal Martha

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Jun
Prodigal Martha
Sounds like … an ambient and varied mix of alternative pop, rock, and folk that draws comparisons to Rita Springer, Jill Phillips, Kate Bush, and Vineyard worship albums with some occasional Brit influencesAt a glance … some of the album is too underproduced and second-rate sounding, but the pleasantly varied Prodigal Martha still shines with passionate, introspective, and worshipful expressions of dependence on GodTrack ListingProdigal MarthaCome to the WaterThe CrossBeautifulSong in My HeartCoveredJesusWho Will CryHung the MoonOverwhelmedAll

Kate Miner has had a relatively unconventional and varied career path that never quite took off, but it's still earned her loyalty and respect with many in the Christian music community. Getting her start as a child by recording commercials, she signed her first record deal at 21. When she later joined Malibu Vineyard Church in California, her perspective completely changed, leading her to begin recording the worship albums for which she's best known.

In 2002, she moved with her family to Nashville, and the next year, she sought treatment at Vanderbilt Medical Center for polyps on her vocal cords. With the possibility of permanently losing her voice, Miner faced a scary period of silence—physically, because she wasn't allowed to talk for a while, and spiritually, because she was listening for the voice of God. That time of self-reflection and soul searching yielded Prodigal Martha, an intimate and confessional portrait of one artist's declaration of dependence on God. Based on the results, she also seems to have made a full vocal recovery.

The album is striking in its sonic and lyrical variation. Judging by the acoustic and reflective title track that opens the album, one might peg Miner as a folk artist. Yet she balances that with Vineyard-styled modern worship like "Come to the Water" and "Covered," and she's even willing to throw in some surprisingly effective British rock on "Song in My Heart" and "The Cross." Said differently, Miner is a bit like Jill Phillips imitating the passionate worship of Rita Springer via the alternative pop sound of Kate Bush while throwing in some Coldplay and Delirious for good measure. On paper, that doesn't seem like it should work, but somehow she pulls it off.

As for the lyrics, Miner occasionally relies on simple worship sentiments, but parts of this album are nothing less than brilliant. The moving "Who Will Cry" resembles Amy Grant's acoustic style while relating the common hurts of life with seemingly no response from above. "Jesus," meanwhile, is written with enough simplicity and personality to explain the Son of God to those who need him most, and while the title track initially questions whether the Lord can recognize a prodigal's face, the ultimate conclusion is that he does.

"Hung the Moon," which features guitar by Phil Keaggy, plays like a spiritual and poetic lullaby set to resplendent alternative folk. Both "Overwhelmed" and "All" are among the year's most poetic and passionate worship expressions, though I'm partial to the insightful, hymn-like "The Cross"—"Jesus changed the color of the cross/From the dark of execution to the light of restitution … Jesus changed the symbol of the cross/From the language of rejection to a sign of resurrection."

Prodigal Martha suffers only in its production. Though capably helmed by Miner's husband David, the quality is more on par with an indie recording—not badly done, but sounding second-rate with the vocals too far forward in the mix and some of the instruments a little too dull in the background. "Beautiful" in particular sounds too passive and lackluster, partly because of its intentionally alternative pop production. Still, you have to wonder if a big budget recording wouldn't have over-polished the sound and squelched some of its creative edge.

A balance somewhere in the middle would have been welcome, because Prodigal Martha seems destined to become an overlooked treasure—unfortunate, but a treasure nonetheless. Inside the packaging, there's a bold and unusual photo that presumably puts Ephesians 6:10-18 on display, Miner walking down the street with "the sword of the Spirit" resting against her shoulder. It doesn't have any apparent tie to the songs, yet there's still something appropriate in using it with such a bold and unusual album that so passionately and effectively fuses artistry, introspection, and worship together.

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