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Reflection of Something

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Aug
Reflection of Something
Sounds like … a more bluesy and classic guitar rock style, less like Creed or Dave Matthews Band and more in common with Jeff Healy, Jonny Lang, Eric Clapton, Hootie & The Blowfish, The Allman Brothers, Third Day, and James ClayAt a glance … Agnew's rocking sophomore effort isn't quite as catchy as his Grace Like Rain, but the confident playing and songwriting allow him to build on his strengths and forge his own artistic pathTrack ListingSomething BeautifulNew NameBlood on My HandsUnchanging OneIsaiah 6Mercy in MeThe Wonder of It AllIn the Middle of MeAlways ThereWhere Were YouFullness FoundMy Jesus(Bonus) It Is Well

2003's Grace Like Rain was an "accidental hit" in that Todd Agnew didn't even pursue a recording deal, yet nonetheless landed one through veteran Christian artist Dana Key and Ardent Records. The album ended up selling moderately well, generating four radio singles (including No. 1 hits "This Fragile Breath" and the title track). Now the reluctant rock star is coping with success and trying to avoid a sophomore slump.

Although Grace Like Rain featured plenty of catchy, varied, and well-performed songs, the excellent debut fell short only because Agnew too obviously emulated popular artists like Creed, Dave Matthews Band, and Counting Crows. The talent was there, but it seemed like Agnew wasn't being his own artist—and he probably wasn't trying to be, since he wasn't pursuing a record deal. The nice part about success is that it's forced Agnew to find his own sound, and I'm happy to say he's done it with Reflection of Something. The question is, will people embrace it as readily?

In a way, Agnew is taking the same direction with his music that Jennifer Knapp did with her second album, eschewing popular radio trends in favor of a gutsier, classic-rock-inspired sound that feels right for the guy. With loads of guitar solos, shimmering B-3 organ, bold drumming, soulful singing, and fine production from John Hampton (Gin Blossoms), it's as if Agnew has rediscovered '70s rock by way of neo-grunge, and it suits his growling bass vocal just fine. It works especially well in beefy blues-rock tunes like the testimonial "New Name" and "Where Were You," which passionately borrows from Job 38-39 to deliver a powerful rocker about God's sovereignty.

It's important to note that Agnew does all this without too closely duplicating a specific artist. This time he evokes rather than mimics. If I had to pick, I'd say he sounds most like pop-blues artists Jeff Healy and Jonny Lang. The Ecclesiastes derived "Fullness Found" only resembles Eric Clapton in the way it fuses blues with reggae, unfolding in a brief jam session toward the end. "Something Beautiful," meanwhile, plays its message of grace and sanctification over a funky groove that doesn't copy Dave Matthews Band. "Mercy in Me" delivers a classic rock sound that falls somewhere between Hootie & The Blowfish ("Hold My Hand") and The Allman Brothers, while challenging us to live our love for God by loving others.

Agnew has a reputation for heavy lyrics, as well as sermonizing in concerts, and it comes across clearly in many of his grace-inspired tracks. The hymn-like "Blood on My Hands," which utilizes "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," sounds oppressively Lenten with its powerful and graphic depiction of Christ's suffering. It almost sounds like a response to The Passion of The Christ—"Each crack of that whip was for my mistakes … Each stumble up that hill was my step to take … How do I say thanks for this?" Then there's the tough ballad "My Jesus," offering convicting lyrics like, "Blessed are the poor in spirit/Or do we pray to bless me with the wealth of this land" and "My Jesus would never be accepted in my church/The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet." There's something akin to the prophets Jeremiah or Nathan in Agnew's delivery.

Not to suggest that the new songs aren't sometimes comparable to the old stuff. This album's first radio single "Unchanging One" has a catchy chorus that recalls "This Fragile Breath," and the encouraging rock ballad "Always There" similarly parallels "Still Here Waiting." With so many heavy sounding tracks on the album, both "The Wonder of It All" and "In the Middle of Me" come as welcome upbeat songs. And while "Isaiah 6" uses familiar text and style for a modern worship concoction, it's as effective as similar material from Third Day and Vineyard worship.

The greatest room for improvement with Agnew is his straight-shooting lyricism. Like Third Day, sometimes it's perfectly worded, but sometimes it comes off a bit simplistic. Speaking of which, that band's least successful album was Conspiracy No. 5, though many fans consider it Third Day's best because of the more intense rock sound. Agnew will likely face a similar dilemma with Reflection of Something. It's admittedly not always the catchiest and most radio friendly album, but it does allow Agnew to go beyond mirroring his influences and shine on his own artistic strengths and merits.

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