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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Traveling Light

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Apr
Traveling Light
Sounds like … smartly produced modern Christian pop performed by a diverse roster of talented artistsAt a Glance … Traveling Light is a terrific compilation album that ranks with City on a Hill, Streams, and My Utmost for His Highest.

I hate it when I do this, but I think we're all guilty of judging products by their cover from time to time. Fortunately, we have a God who keeps us in check by humbling us every once in awhile. Such was the case when an album called Traveling Light landed on my desk. I barely glanced at it, too busy with other daily responsibilities to look beyond a few words such as "Songs from the 23rd Psalm" and "Inspired by the writings of Max Lucado." I almost immediately placed the album in my "to listen" pile and filed it in my brain as "product" — a term a friend of mine uses to refer to albums hastily made to capitalize on a brand name, sell a related book, or simply sell a lot of units for little cost. I think what may have thrown me was the record label, Creative Trust Workshop. It's a brand-new record label that started out of Creative Trust Entertainment, a group of artist managers responsible for the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, and Mark Schultz. If you read how and why the record label started, it almost sounds like a marketing plan — virtually straightforward confirmation of my "product" fears. Thank God I do eventually listen to everything that comes my way! Don't make the same mistake I made. Do yourself a favor and make every attempt to listen to Traveling Light.

There are three things not readily apparent about Traveling Light without some closer inspection: it has 10 beautifully written original songs, it features a number of talented artists (including some low-profile critical faves and a few surprising artist pairings), and it was created by the teams that brought us City on a Hill and My Utmost for His Highest. Co-producer Brown Bannister is widely regarded as the unifying artistic talent behind My Utmost for His Highest, the first extremely successful multi-artist compilation in the Christian industry. He is joined by co-producer Steve Hindalong of The Choir, who along with Marc Byrd made artistic community a key to the success of the City on a Hill albums. It's important to note that these two producers didn't split responsibilities, with one producing half and the other handling the rest. Carrying on the concept of artistic community from City on a Hill, Brown and Steve worked together on all the tracks and participated in all of the songwriting (along with Marc Byrd). The result is a modern Christian pop album that's more alternative sounding than My Utmost for His Highest, but softer than City on a Hill.

For those not familiar with the title, Traveling Light refers to Max Lucado's best-selling book of the same name, which was based on a series of sermons he gave at his home church about the 23rd Psalm. The book was not a verse-by-verse explanation of the well-known scripture, but rather a practical application of the verses to our everyday living — how we exhaust ourselves by carrying burdens we were never meant to carry but are supposed to leave to God. It's interesting to see how books translate to music. Like the book that inspired it, The Prayer of Jabez EP does very little beyond exploring a passage of scripture verse by verse. In contrast, the songs of Traveling Light start with the verses and then build upon them, applying them to worship, prayer, and practical living. Credit the producers for putting effort into the songwriting and not just taking the easy path.

There's an impressive lineup of artists on this album, though you may not be instantly familiar with all of them. Fans of The Choir will enjoy the fact that Steve lends his percussion skills to most of the songs, and Derri Daughtery does the same with his guitar work. Featured artists include Amy Grant ("Gentle Shepherd"), Tait ("Following Me"), and Jaci Velasquez ("In Green Pastures," the album's first single). I also was impressed to see the inclusion of two fantastic husband-wife duos. Adore is comprised of Marc Byrd and his wife, Christine Glass. They recently were signed to Squint and make a fine alternative-pop debut here with "I Will Not Fear." Fleming & John are a critical favorite, but they're probably some of the most under-appreciated artists in Christian music. They perform a wonderful modern arrangement (by John) of the classic hymn "Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us." Then there are the artist pairings, which are as good as those found on the City on a Hill albums. For the powerful "Mountain of God," a song about the strength that God provides us, two classic roots rockers come together for a dream duet — Mac Powell (Third Day) and Ashley Cleveland. PFR's Joel Hanson teams up with Sara Groves for the rhythmic title track about leaving our burdens to the Lord. Popular country artist Bryan White gets an opportunity to express his Christian faith with "I Shall Not Want." He sounds a lot like Adam LaClave of Earthsuit and is joined by indie artist Sandra McCracken on backing vocals.

I'll admit I was skeptical about two other tracks — a duet by Russ Taff and Max Lucado's daughter Jenna on "Let It Flow," and another duet by Derri Daugherty and Brown Bannister's daughter Ellie on "Rest in Me." You might say I suffered preconceptions twice with this album, since both women are up to the task of contributing their voices to the music. "Rest in Me" is particularly effective as a McCartney-esque lullaby/duet between our heavenly Father (sung by Derri) and we, his children (Ellie Bannister). The creation of the new CTW record label and this album may have stemmed from a marketing plan, but all of the ingredients for a successful album are here: well-written music, sure and steady production, and strong artistic performances. Maybe that's why it's called creative marketing, since assembling the talent for an album as terrific as Traveling Light takes just as much artistry as it does to perform it.