Natalie Grant has seen her share of tough times in the music industry. Facing the collapse of two record companies she had been a part of, she finally found a home among Curb Records. And since her signing, Natalie Grant has headed nowhere but up. 2003 saw the release of Deeper Life, a groundbreaking record for Grant, pushing her in the direction of Awaken, her 2005 release. With the songwriting talents of Joy Williams, Matthew West, Christa Wells, and Natalie herself, this album is nothing short of an awakening in the career of this young artist. Plumb, the Prague Sessions Orchestra, Nikki Leonti, and Wynonna Judd are all included in this outing as well.
"Intro (The Awakening)" starts things off with an instrumental introduction performed by the Prague Sessions Orchestra, leading into the title track. Grant starts things off in the feel of her hits "I Will Be" and "Live For Today" from Deeper Life, heading in an organic, upbeat pop/rock driven direction. Helping out the writing, Grant explores the themes of living a life awakened to Christ, an idea which ends up running throughout the rest of the record. "Something Beautiful" keeps with the upbeat, windows-down sound, much like something off of Joy William's recent Genesis album. Near to the end of "Something Beautiful," she references the next song, "What Are You Waiting For," belting out, "What are you waiting for... there's something beautiful."
Natalie invites the listener to change the world in "What Are You Waiting For," a song originally sung by Lindsay Lohan on The Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen soundtrack. The song doesn't differ much from Lohan's version, except for the fact that Grant gives a much more mature sound to the track. Next up is "The Real Me," the song which sparked a book by the same name, penned by Grant herself. Finally slowing things down after three roaring pop/rock anthems, "The Real Me" examines the insecurities every one of us faces in our daily lives, trying to live up to the world's expectations of who we are "supposed to be." But with a tender delivery, Grant reminds us God sees "the real me, hiding in my skin, broken from within..." What emerges is Natalie's first major ballad on this album.
"Another Day" returns to the pop/rock sound, but adds a moody edge while reminding us that every day is a gift and a chance "to laugh, to dance, watch the sun come up..." Natalie Grant has a growing passion to reach young girls and boys who are being introduced into cruel human trafficking systems in the world, and has recently founded the HOME foundation to start combating this problem. "Home" is the song written for girls in India, where Natalie visited to see firsthand what was happening to these girls being illegally forced into sex trade. Building off this emotional and powerful subject, Natalie has crafted her second major ballad for Awaken.
Gentle guitars open "Captured," a softer pop track bursting into a rousing chorus reminiscent of "Another Day." Finally building up to the biggest ballad highlight on the album, Grant has saved "Held" for the latter half. Penned by Christa Wells, who had recently dealt with loss in her personal life, Natalie Grant sings out about being held even "when the sacred is torn from your life..." Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (of Plumb) contributes background vocals, giving this piano and string-led track the perfect sound for Natalie, and a major radio hit. "You Move Me" has almost the same feel as "Captured," just a slightly different theme, and no bursting chorus. This song showcases her harmonies at their very best, and the guitar flows us through the moody pop sound. Milan Jilek of the Czech Republic continues the motif of "Intro (The Awakening)" in "Make Me Over," another soft rock hitter from Natalie.
I almost took a double take when I saw that there was a song titled "Live For Today" on Awaken. I quickly skipped to it and heard a repeat from Deeper Life. The huge radio hit for Natalie Grant has made a return, in its exact same format from her previous album. The theme of the song fits well here since Grant is all about seizing the moment and living through Christ. Wynonna Judd makes a guest appearance on "Bring It Together," a soulful track complete with a background choir and a chorus with energy to match any of the best gospel music out there. Natalie feels really at home with Wynonna, and their voices blend together to create one of the hidden highlights of the album. To finish, Natalie has included an accompaniment version of "Held," with Tiffany Arbuckle Lee's vocals gently riding over the piano and strings, creating a perfect mood to end the album with.
This time around, Natalie Grant has really outdone herself. The songwriting is superb, despite slightly formulaic at moments, and her vocal prowess shines through every high note. If you're a fan of Natalie Grant, or of ballads or soft rock, then Awaken might just be the perfect choice.- Review date: 10/21/05, written by Shaun Stevenson
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