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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Story of My Life

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Dec
Story of My Life
Sounds like … soft, inspirational adult contemporary written for the church, similar to Nichole Nordeman, Kathy Troccoli, Rita Springer, and Twila ParisAt a Glance … many other artists are handling a similar piano-pop sound more creatively or more worshipfully, but those looking for basic, well-performed inspirational pop will be satisfied with Story of My Life.

Shannon Wexelberg follows Allen Asbury as the second artist to release an album through the newly formed Doxology record label, which was created earlier this year to develop and support artists who desire to use their gifts for the Church. Though Story of My Life marks her national debut, it's possible you may know Shannon from two previous number-one inspirational hits. She wrote and performed "When I Think About the Lord," as well as a duet with Matthew Ward entitled "You Are My Refuge" – both came from multi-artist compilations, including the 2001 release Celtic Cry. Shannon bears some physical and artistic resemblance to Nichole Nordeman; both blonde singer/songwriters play the piano, hail from Colorado, and developed their music skills through their home churches at a young age. Shannon spent her college years at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas to further her skills as a musician and a minister. After graduating, Shannon's songs appeared on many Maranatha! Music projects, including the Dove Award-winning Raise the Standard, presenting her with opportunities to grow as a worship leader at conferences across the country. This label debut represents the next logical step in her steadily growing career as an artist.

Colorado-based producer Jay Stocker helmed the soft, inspirational adult-contemporary sound of Story of My Life, highlighted by Shannon's pop vocal and piano stylings. Her sound is reminiscent of numerous inspirational female artists from the last ten years. The album opens with "From the Rising," a simple praise song inspired by Psalm 113 that features a rhythmic piano and orchestra blend reminiscent of Sandi Patty's classic sound, only less dramatic. "Where My Heart Is" comes from Matthew 6:19-21, and sounds similar to the contemporary Christian pop of early Margaret Becker or Cindy Morgan. If you're a fan of the darkly hued contemporary pop of Nichole Nordeman's hit "Holy," you may enjoy "Shadow of a Tree," which is about the extraordinary beauty and mystery of Christ's redemption of all of us through his crucifixion and resurrection.

Those three tracks mark the most energetic of the album. The rest are fairly routine easy-listening ballads. Both "You Carry Me" and "He's That Close" are gentle piano ballads that remind us of God's enduring comfort: "He's that close, like the beating of your heart / You don't have to travel far / He is right where you are." In "Like a River," which sounds like classic Twila Paris or Kathy Troccoli, Shannon compares God's love for us to an ever-flowing river: "Like a river, sometimes I can't see you / But still you keep on moving, hidden from my view / Then you surprise me with waters of refreshing / When I'm least expecting, I'm overcome by you." The title track is another piano ballad that serves as Shannon's testimony and heart's desire to let Jesus be the driving force in her life: "You are my testimony / The reason that I sing / I long to bring you glory / So may you always be / Found on every page of me." There's also a simple piano-based rendition of the hymn "Take My Life," which closes out the album.

Since the release of Allen Asbury's debut, I've wondered what Doxology means by music intended for the church, since there are more worship albums available today than at any time in human history. Neither Allen's album nor Shannon's would readily be considered worship music by most people, at least not in the sense that these songs would be sung by a congregation in corporate worship. Shannon's songs can't be classified as introspective either, because they don't reveal anything original or unique to her as a songwriter. Most of the time, like so many inspirational artists before her, Shannon simply recycles inspiring words and scriptural text to serve as her lyrics. At best, she blends simple insight with Christian pop clichés, as evidenced by the words of "In the Waiting," about having patience for things to unfold in God's time: "Though I've cried out for an answer, I believe that I can say / Thank you, Lord, for every answer you've delayed."

This is well-intentioned Christian pop that's typically used as special music at contemporary worship services. Shannon joins the ranks of pop artists such as Regi Stone, David Phelps, River, and Allen Asbury, who are called to minister to the Church either during worship or at a special church-sponsored concert. To be clear, it's certainly well-written, performed, and produced for its genre, but it fails to distinguish itself from similar, more creative inspirational acts. Consider, for example, Shannon's "Work of Art," a simple pop prayer of surrender that uses the familiar potter and clay metaphor to describe God's shaping of our lives. The same metaphor is used more effectively in Darlene Zschech's worship song "The Potter's Hand," and more artistically in Nichole Nordeman's breathtaking ballad "Anyway." Which gets back to the matter of what makes this music more "intentional for the Church," since it doesn't inspire participatory worship and since more introspective and creative pop songs also have been used to enhance worship. Artists such as Nichole Nordeman, Ginny Owens, and Cindy Morgan have handled a similar sound with more intelligence and artistry, while Rita Springer, Fernando Ortega, and Twila Paris have tackled it from a more passionate and worshipful approach — I'd recommend projects by any and all of those artists before this. If you take Shannon Wexelberg's music for what it is, however, then listeners simply looking to be inspired by the traditional inspirational pop sounds of the last 25 years will be blessed by Story of My Life.