Tuesday, May 1, 2012

REVIEW | Heather Williams – This Time Around

I’ll admit, these days, I’ve all but left Top 40 music behind. I’ve turned to the local Gen-X station, plunged into Country music, and—in the midst of a lot of soul searching in 2012—rediscovered Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). The last time I listened this heavily to CCM was during my stint writing radio commercials at a local station 16 years ago.
The recent CCM hit “God Is Still God” struck a chord with me this winter, in particular during a one-day road trip to the Ozarks. Last week, I finally looked up the artist and, a few days ago, purchased the CD: This Time Around by Heather Williams.
And I haven’t stopped playing it since.
Williams’s major-label debut is excellent. Kudos belong as much to the production team as to the artist herself.
The primary reason I’d avoided CCM in recent years was because I’d felt it struggled to hit the mark in terms of quality. The songwriting—both melodies and lyrics—seemed to operate at lower standards of quality than its mainstream counterpart, as if some (not all) artists had written the songs on the fly and thrown them onto a CD. The only CCM artist I truly enjoyed on a consistent basis was Casting Crowns. Now Heather Williams has joined that short list.
The quality that sets Williams apart isn’t just her awareness of current trends in pop music. Rather, Williams actually knows how to make it work and make it her own.
Fans of Top 40’s Katy Perry will feel at home with Williams. And to the credit of Williams, who also co-pens many of her own songs, she didn’t require a stable of veteran industry talent to get the job done. Aside from a songwriting contribution by CCM’s Cindy Morgan on “God Is Still God,” I didn’t recognize the other names.
“Beautiful Thing,” the opening track on This Time Around, is a game of sonic and melodic hopscotch in the vein of Maroon 5. It grows infectious with repeated listens. I can relate to its “Fix me, fix me” lyrical line as a frequent prayer of my own.
Three of the tracks that shine best for me are “God Is Still God,” “You are Loved,” and “I’ll Take it from You,” all heartfelt, energy-infused songs that speak to different times of need in the journey of life. Each has ministered to me in a unique way.
But above all, my favorite track is “Hallelujah,” a gorgeous ballad. It follows a pattern we find in the biblical Psalm 119, where the psalmist comes to God, fully aware of the messes he has made in life and the struggles through which he wades. Then his heart turns in a yet-I-will-praise-Him direction. Williams captures this pattern and wraps it up in the simplicity of one word—“hallelujah”—wrapping it in a melodic sway that melts your heart with its candor. This track touches my heart in such a deep way, I keep getting reduced to tears as I listen to it in my car. God uses Williams’s “Hallelujah” track to lead me into the joy, wonder and security of knowing I’m not perfect, but I’m also not alone. How many times in my own life have I thanked God for not giving up on me!
But what captures me most about This Time Around is its flat-out honesty. My understanding is that Williams’s music is fueled in part by her backstory of childhood challenges. The lyrics have a genuine quality to them, the simplicity of a heart that knows it has tatters around the edges, one that just wants to draw near to the Lord. Yet, the album can be reduced to the cry of a heart that just wants to loved, to be held and valued. And don’t we all know how such a longing feels?
Heather Williams’s This Time Around is a triumph. Highly recommended.
Never give up!

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