When Francesca Battistelli's debut My Paper Heart released three years ago, the young singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with a confidence fitting one with a name that means "free to hit the stars." Her playful pop style, charming lyrics, and strong, soulful voice propelled her to radio success and earned multiple Dove Award nods and marked her as a compelling new voice in Christian music.
The intervening three years brought a rush of changes: marriage, a baby, and a big move or two, all in the space between making two albums, so it's only natural that such major life events would shape the new material of Battistelli's sophomore project Hundred More Years. A more focused sound and mature lyrics don't detract from the bubbly style of her debut, but instead offer her work a new dimension.
In the tradition of her debut's opener "Free to Be Me," a pop tune about finding freedom and self-acceptance in spite of imperfections and dented fenders, Hundred More Years starts off presenting another side to the story. A sparkling ukelele solo leads the way in "This is the Stuff," straight into a sort of confessional lyric: "I lost my keys / In the great unknown / And call me please / 'Cause I can't find my phone." Okay, not exactly the deepest confession, but her lists of annoying little things in life that God uses recast the playfully self-deprecating images as a wink to everyone who's been in the same position. Perhaps these things aren't so earth-shattering after all. Essentially, it's a similar message to "Free to Be Me," but revisited to shift the focus from the teenage quest for identity to the frustrations of a modern woman. It's not terribly deep, but it has a contagious quality that is sure to resonate with the core Christian radio crowd.
Battistelli doesn't make drastic changes to her already successful style, but instead hones and focuses her sound into what she does best. Her voice is expressive and confident; the music explores R&B-influenced songwriter pop that evokes her mainstream contemporaries Sara Bareilles and Colbie Callait, easy-going and summery, an inviting soundtrack as the weather starts to warm. Gone are the moments of style deviation that occasionally showed up on My Paper Heart (ie: the gospel-heavy "Blue Sky" or worship anthem "Forever Love"). Battistelli knows her audience and comfortable musical ground and gives it her best.
That doesn't mean the songs on Hundred More Years fall into a sound-alike trap though. "You Never Are" is a highlight for its minimal instrumentation and singable quality. "Emily (It's Love)" is an upbeat duet with Dave Barnes, whose voice and musical style meshes with hers to create a contagious and cheerful pop song. "Don't Miss It" dabbles with a touch of rock that gives it the energy of a fast drive on open road, and "So Long" has the relaxed warmth of a sun-drenched summer afternoon.
Lyrically, Battistelli's new focus is not so set on future dreams and identity anymore. She now writes on the present and slowing down to enjoy life and love, perhaps another progression for someone who has encountered so much fast change in her life. The youthful dreams of finding love in her past song "Someday Soon" are replaced by the reflective "Worth It," a song that focuses on the challenges of love, and "Hundred More Years" brings those dreams into reality with a wistful longing to make the moments of love last "for a hundred more years." Of course, the romantic marriage-and-kids theme has been been done before in Christian music and always runs the risk of sentimentalism, but there's something about her the tender, almost sad notes in her voice that makes this counterpoint to "This is the Stuff" a sweet close to the album. Beneath the glistening pop veneer, the heartbeat of her new songs is to enjoy life, embrace love, and not let the little frustrations of life get in the way, a message that resonates with a fast-paced life if one slows down long enough to listen.
Hundred More Years isn't going to churn up deep discussions or make big challenges, but that was never Francesca Battistelli's style anyway. She gives her own twist to a proven pop sound, staying fresh and current enough to keep up with her peers, yet accessible enough to satisfy Christian radio listeners. But most of all, her songs are just too fun to ignore, focused on her faith without taking herself too seriously. Hundred More Years ushers spring in with a smile and offers a refreshing break to the weary soul.- Review date: 2/26/11, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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