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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Feb
Sounds like … modern pop and rock—sometimes heavy and arty, sometimes light and inspirational—closely resembling Avril Lavigne, Joy Williams, Rachael Lampa, Jaci Velasquez, and Vanessa CarltonAt a glance … Undisguised has some flaws, but it's generally an above average pop/rock effort with strong production values and some occasionally thoughtful songwritingTrack ListingBring It OnWhere You AreMore Than Enough (Amazing Love)Wounded KingUndisguisedEverything I Need You AreLove Is for AlwaysWork It OutYou Are the OneDear PerformerNever Been Unloved

Kara Williamson comes from a strong musical pedigree, having toured the country with her family to lead worship for much of her life. She's also gained prominent experience touring and singing with Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, and CeCeWinans. But most people blinked and missed her short-lived 1999 stint with her siblings in the worship trio Three Strand, as well as her 2002 solo debut on Vertical/Integrity, simply entitled Kara.

INO is fortunately giving Williamson a second chance at a music career with Undisguised. She's teamed once again with her previous producer Peter Kipley (MercyMe), along with newcomer Jeff Roach (Trevor Morgan), but gone are most of the programmed pop elements reminiscent of Dido and Rebecca St. James that unfairly tagged her as a worshipful teen pop artist. Instead, Undisguised follows more of a guitar- and piano-driven modern pop/rock direction—not surprising since programmed teen pop acts like ZOEgirl, Joy Williams, Rachael Lampa, and Jaci Velasquez have all done the same thing.

Williamson co-writes most of the songs again, yielding some thoughtful and creative lyricism. The title track and album's theme refers to the twenty-something's perfectionist tendencies and our need to shed shallow ideals, admit our flaws, and find both redemption and purpose in the Lord. Especially poignant is "Dear Performer," Williamson's Dear John letter to the people-pleaser inside of her as she comes to fully embrace God's unconditional grace and acceptance: "Dear performer, I'm His beloved and I don't have to measure up anymore/And I don't ever have to prove I'm worthy/Cuz after all, isn't that what Jesus died for?"

The flowing "O Wounded King" is written like a modern hymn, based on a poem written by Williamson's mother and also seemingly inspired by graphic suffering depicted in The Passion of The Christ—"This scene of pain, the wail of tears/Seems too severe for the fragile ears/Still I choose not to turn away, lest I forget the price You paid." Another emotional highlight is "You Are the One," a sweet love song to Williamson's husband that could just as easily be perceived as a worship song to Jesus.

Particularly refreshing is the album's overall sound, a solid mix of dynamic pop and rock that's stronger than the majority of what's on Christian radio these days. The producers aren't afraid to add crunchy guitars to beef up the sound or back off for a more artful and delicate approach. The drums are crisp, the piano enveloping—this album simply sounds good without resorting to cookie cutter production.

The lead CHR format single "Love Is For Always" is particularly strong. Though it rips off the guitar riff from The Romantics' classic "Talking in Your Sleep" and sounds a bit too much like No Doubt's cover of "It's My Life," there's still a thrilling neo-'80s rock groove to it. "Everything I Need You Are" is elevated by arty production, diverse instrumentation, and a complex chord structure, evoking Vanessa Carlton or Lampa's 2004 self-titled effort. "Work It Out" offers encouragement to a friend (perhaps from God to man) with pop as hooky and memorable as Stacie Orrico and Superchic[k].

Undisguised only suffers in its pacing. The weakest tracks are the first three, including the AC radio single "Where You Are." At the other end, an okay programmed cover of Michael W. Smith's 1998 hit "Never Been Unloved" appropriately sums up the album's theme, but it feels like an afterthought—an epilogue to the much stronger "Dear Performer." There's also a degree of sameness in the production, failing to offer enough sonic variation; Kara was a more interesting album because of this. And while Williamson does have a good voice, it tends to get a little whiny in some songs; this suggests a poor stylistic decision more than a flaw in talent.

This album is still a winner thanks to above average production and occasionally interesting songwriting, offering that little something extra that's missing in so much of today's Christian pop/rock. It'd be a shame if audiences allowed Kara Williamson to go unnoticed once again by missing out on Undisguised.