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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Wrestling the Angels

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Oct
Wrestling the Angels
Sounds like … the acoustic AC pop of artists such as Margaret Becker, Shawn Colvin, Jill Phillips, Watermark, and Sarah MasenAt a glance … Wrestling the Angels is a bit monotonous and derivative in sound, but Minter has grown considerably as a songwriter in recent years

Perhaps you remember Kelly Minter from her 2001 national debut Good Day (Word). Her career never really took off from there, despite generally positive reviews and tours with the likes of Watermark and Bebo Norman. Unfortunately, Minter was one of several budding Christian artists who lost her record deal after 2001. But no matter, because it's been time well spent for the twenty-something pastor's daughter, who's been journaling and songwriting on the subject of hope amid uncertainty, trials, and spiritual dryness. Those times resulted in her first book, Between Water and Wine (WaterBrook Press, due spring 2004), and a new album, Wrestling the Angels.

She's also landed on a new label, Cross Driven Records—the same label on which Margaret Becker resides, and that can't be a coincidence. Becker is clearly one of Minter's strongest influences, and she in fact produces one-third of this new recording; the rest is helmed by Paul Buono. Becker's imprint is clear on Wrestling the Angels, offering the same acoustic-driven AC pop you'd expect from her as well Jill Phillips, Watermark, Robin Welty, and Staci Frenes. Wrestling even sounds like it could have been recorded from the same sessions as Becker's recent Just Come In.

Minter's talents have bloomed considerably since Good Day. For one thing, she's exploring a different vocal range. Gone is the husky alto range, á la Jennifer Knapp and Ashley Cleveland. Now she sounds more breathy and fragile, exploring an upper range more reminiscent of Sarah Masen, Ginny Owens, and especially Christy Nockels (Watermark). The songs are still very acoustic based, but not as country-flavored roots rock as Good Day was, favoring more of an AC pop sound colored by strings.

But most impressive is her songwriting, which is simple and inspired by Scripture without sounding clichéd. The encouraging album begins with "My Offering," an enjoyable praise song of surrender: "I will not give what costs me nothing when I bring my sacrifice/'Cause You have asked for only one thing, that I gladly give my life." "Shade" is a poetic song of worship referring to Jesus as our refuge and shelter, without rehashing overused expressions. "Say the Word," "Yet Will I Praise," and "Walk Me Through" offer expressions of faith that God will see us through tough times. The closer, "You're Listening," is a wonderful acoustic prayer that takes comfort in God's constant presence: "Why does my soul ache and why do dreams I thought I'd captured slip away?/But You don't have to answer me/It's enough to know You're listening."

Two other tracks focus specifically on the blessings God is willing to give if we only ask. The album title comes from "Evidence of Change," inspired by Jacob's willingness to wrestle with an angel (Genesis 32) through the night until he was blessed by the Lord: "If this is how the blessings flow, then count me in/I'm falling on Your mercy/I am losing to gain." One of the album's standouts is "Open Up the Sky," featuring some interestingly dreamy backing vocals by Minter. The song explores how Christians often focus too much on our own plans, assuming we know what's best for our lives, when God all the while wants to bless us in unexpected ways: "I had set my sights with such narrow mindedness/Perfectly convinced of what would bring me happiness."

Despite these strong themes of hope and faith, and despite the generally pleasant sound, Wrestling suffers from monotony and derivation in the sound—pretty much 42 minutes of the same AC pop over and over. For example, "Captives Dance," using the wandering Israelites as an illustration of hope, could have offered some much needed variation and energy. What might have been a rousing jig or joyous rocker is less than thrilling. And "Miss You Here" is but the latest example of a song about God's presence in all of creation, a theme that's been revisited far too often with little creativity or payoff.

There's still room for improvement, especially if Minter wants to distinguish herself from numerous other artists. But to her credit, Minter demonstrates considerable growth as a songwriter and vocalist on the likeably crafted Wrestling with Angels, offering expressions of faith and hope that sound meaningful instead of trite.