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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

The Heart of Me

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Sep
The Heart of Me
Sounds like … classic inspirational pop and easy listening from the late '80s and early '90s, exactly what's made Kathy Troccoli such a popular artistAt a Glance … there's nothing you haven't heard before on The Heart of Me, but this beautifully made inspirational album ranks among Kathy's best works.

2002 marks the twentieth anniversary of the first release from a young Italian girl from New York named Kathy Troccoli. With 12 albums and numerous awards to her credit, there's surprisingly little fanfare surrounding this anniversary. Some may suggest Kathy's impact on music isn't nearly as great today as it was ten years ago. That's not entirely true. While she may not be charting and selling as much, she remains extremely popular with women's ministries, a new phase to her career that's led to numerous speaking engagements, concerts, and four books written by Kathy (including The Colors of His Love, due this year).

For Kathy's thirteenth album, The Heart of Me, Kathy re-teams with producers Chris Harris and Nathan DiGesare, who both have produced some of her past recordings. Nathan's presence is especially interesting since he helped produce and write hits such as "Psalm 23" and "Different Road" on her Corner of Eden project. This may help explain The Heart of Me's sound. Although the album doesn't sound dated in any way, there's something nostalgic that recalls the late '80s and early '90s. Some cynical types may think, What's the difference? I wish it was easier to articulate, but Kathy somehow has managed to recapture the sound of her most beloved albums from the early '90s without sacrificing quality. Only her strongest fans would admit that all of Kathy's albums are created equally. Said another way, this album lacks the glossy polish of a major inspirational recording … and this is a good thing. At some other time, say five or ten years ago, this adult-contemporary album may have seemed routine among similar-sounding projects. Today it sounds different, and oddly enough, fresh by comparison.

There's more that's different this time around. For the first time in five years Kathy teamed with outside writers – it shows and it helps immensely. The songs certainly fall within your usual adult-contemporary fare, but the quality of writing is much improved from 2000's Love Has a Name. Kathy also toys a little with some different sounds and styles. The opening track, "Take Me Higher," has a sophisticated pop groove that's a little reminiscent of Dido and Peter Gabriel. Lyrically, the prayer of surrender is not unlike Creed's similarly titled smash hit. "Ever Since the Day" has bears strong resemblance to upbeat pop from the late '80s in its joyful celebration of what Christ has done for us: "Ever since the day I met You / My world has turned around / My eyes have opened / My heart is beating now." Then there's "Just Like You," a worshipful little rocker with prominent electric guitar (!) that includes shades of The Beatles and classic Amy Grant. One of the album's standout tracks is "Love Has Come," a majestic song of worship with an unusual alternating meter and a sweeping orchestral and choral bridge of "Hallelujahs." It's like something you'd expect from classic Michael W. Smith or Twila Paris – nostalgic, powerful, and impressive.

The bulk of the album, not surprisingly, centers on pretty, inspirational ballads, some of which are very well done and some that are fairly routine sounding. Kathy expresses a powerful testimony of faith in "You're Still God," and she offers hope in the big power ballad "He Will Shelter You." The album's title is drawn from "You're the Heart of Me," an inspirational song about slowly conforming to the image of Christ. "A Love That Won't Walk Away," praises God for his unfailing presence; the simplicity of the arrangement and the message of the lyrics will make this a popular music offering for church services. Among the ballads, fans of easy listening will be most impressed with "Heaven Knows." Kathy says this one was inspired by the romantic melodies and sweeping arrangements of Andrea Bocelli, and it shows. With words that remind us that the answers not readily apparent in this life will someday be known to us in heaven, this lushly orchestrated pop song recalls the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber: "Heaven knows all of what I long to know / Promises of love are lived forever / Heaven goes far beyond where my heart goes / What we could do if only all the world knew what heaven knows." I also liked the gentle "All for the Life of Me," which smartly places a well-known phrase in a spiritual context to explain why Christ died for us: "For the life of me, I can't comprehend why I mean so much to you / But maybe someday in forever the answer will be clear to see / You did what you did for the life of me."

Sure, we've heard an endless string of pop projects like this before, especially in the '80s and '90s. Nevertheless, there's typically a fine line between inspiration and tedium in music such as this. It would be all too easy for Kathy to slip into the same adult-contemporary sound so many other Christian artists are still known for, or to even experiment with (heaven forbid!) funky R&B dance rhythms in an attempt to connect with the teen pop audience. Instead, Kathy has gone back and rediscovered her classic sound, doing it as well as she's ever done. Living in the past, returning to her successful formula, or trying something artistic and different than the norm? I suppose you'll need to decide for yourself which best describes what Kathy's doing on this album. Despite some routine moments, The Heart of Me is a beautiful adult-contemporary pop album that's sure to strike a chord with Kathy's target audience.