Imagination, 17-year-old Bethany Dillon's sophomore album, takes a step closer to CCM than her self-titled debut. Elements of her singer/songwriter beginnings emerge, but as part of a larger, more instrumental background. Imagination is an optimistic, thoughtful album, full of interesting - if predictable - melodies and interwoven with string arrangements and heartfelt lyrics. This album is half energetic worship service, half quiet solitary confession.
"Dreamer" leads the 11-song album, a young, poppy, catchy song about a king who gave his life for his kingdom. ("Dreamer" is also slated to be the exit music for the upcoming film Dreamer starring Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson, and Elisabeth Shue.) The inspiring, worshipful "Hallelujah" follows, with verses you may not remember but a chorus that grabs hold and will keep you singing in the shower and the car for weeks.
Next in line is "All That I Can Do," a comfortably energetic song with a predictable, yet satisfying, melody. Slow this one down a tick or two (because it feels a little wordy at points) and it would be a great worship service song. "Airplane" is the first real departure from Dillon's expected style, with the entire first verse sung over only a muted bass line, which brings her voice to the forefront. The song-story puts into words the thoughts and observations of a young traveler, distilling the spirituality of being secluded in a plane with strangers tens of thousands of feet above the Earth.
A kind of letter from God when we face those tough spots, "I Believe in You" has encouraging lyrics set to a smooth melody. In the second departure from her expected sound, "My Love Hasn't Grown Cold" shows Dillon's growing maturity as a songwriter. (I had thought the song must be a cover until I read the liner notes.) The use of a mellow electric guitar tone and a slower, smoother pace than the rest of the album sets this song apart. It's an easy lullaby, showcasing a reassuring lyric and highlighting Dillon's progressively maturing vocals.
Back to formula, "New" presents a sweet melody, a beautiful, subtle string arrangement, and uplifting, remembering words that made me feel like they give voice to just what I wanted to say. "The Way I See You" is darker though not dark, explaining a desire to be noticed by someone who may or may not consider you worth seeing.
"Vagabond" is a celebration of missionaries, softly building from a folky verse to a catchy chorus. Here's another one you'll be singing to yourself at odd moments. Another softer, more introspective piece, "Be Near Me" shows the hesitancy many people feel when approaching God. The lyrics are a recognition of God's goodness. Upon first hearing, I thought it was written as a reaction to September 11 - "I cannot believe you are angry or unjust/You have done nothing but have compassion on us/So be near when I've given up/Be near me…" According to the Dillon, her inspiration for this lyric is Luther, a film about the life of Martin Luther in 16th-century Germany.
The final track is "Imagination," a light, thoughtful, finger-picked ramble. There's no musical hook to speak of at the beginning of the song, but the lovely vocals, guitar, strings and lyric are captivating - if you're in the mood to be captivated by a gentle song. This is an excellent way to wrap up such an inward-outward album, with a song that implores: "Isn't that just like a finite mind/Setting out with such righteous indignation/But now I'm at Your feet/Won't You look at me with some imagination…" It gives me goosebumps just to write that line.- Review date: 8/14/05, written by Mim DiBiase
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