Though the name may sound new, Audrey Assad has been a part of the CCM world for a while. From working with Phillip Larue and Paul Moak on her independently-released EP Fireflies to a guest spot on Chris Tomlin's Christmas record performing her own "Winter Snow," the young singer/songwriter has collaborated with quite a number of industry notables over the past few years. Her lyrical piano pop caught the attention of Sparrow Records along the way, and now her time to really shine has come. Her major label debut, The House You're Building, is different from much worship and CCM of the day. Her poetic, vertically-oriented lyrics are honest and reflective, and her lovely voice and piano-centric style are understated and mature. It takes a few listens to fully appreciate this album, but like the slow opening of a flower, these eleven tracks take their time revealing their individual, unique beauty.
There are two things that immediately stand out on the first listen. First is her voice, not like powerhouse vocals that rule in female pop, but one that is sweet to listen to, both ethereal and grounded. Her voice evokes artists such as Sarah MacLachlan, Brooke Fraser, and Nichole Nordeman, and her music finds influence in both nineties female singers and the music of the seventies. The second highlight is the writing itself. Drawing inspiration from the writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins and St. Augustine, images from nature, and her own life experiences, Assad is a poet who works creative imagery into her songs to present familiar ideas in fresh ways.
The House You're Building opens with the lead single "For Love of You," a track that, for better or worse, kicks off the record firing on all radio-ready cylinders. The music feels like pretty standard Nashville pop fare -- big buildup, quiet bridge, hooky chorus -- but look beyond the music to her words and there's something remarkably different. Inspired by the poem "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Hopkins, the lyrics are a great introduction to Assad's literary tendencies. The expressive symbolism describes a way of looking at the world that sees Christ in everything -- "You live in a million places / Your fingerprints are seen on a million faces... You are my deepest longing / And so I see You everywhere."
The following tracks, "The House You're Building" and "Breaking Through," were two of my favorites. "The House You're Building" features some interesting twists in the biblical imagery of Christ as the cornerstone, describing herself as "a homeless stranger... a broken stone" that fits in "the house You're building." "Breaking Through" is simple and beautiful, and it continues to run with the theme: "I've got no voice to sing the songs written by the prophets on the subway walls / The kingdom is a golden table and we are beggars all." These songs beautifully capture a theme of misfits finding a place in the Kingdom.
There's a very worshipful feel to this music, yet with the exception of "Restless," these aren't corporate worship or church songs. Instead, they are prayer-like cries from a broken human heart to God. Human love isn't exempt from her writing though; the lilting love song "Ought to Be" is another standout track. Celebrating the joys of being in love, it introduces a bright acoustic guitar melody and a bit of playful whistling that make a cheerful counterpoint to the more somber tracks. It's only fitting that "Known" would follow, a song that celebrates how God knows us "as a lover knows his beloved's heart." Though I missed it the first few times, "Run Forward" turned out to be another favorite. It has a very Brooke Fraser feel with some of her best, most passionate singing and a strong piano melody accented by strings and a gently thumping drum beat. "Show Me" wraps everything on a hushed note, a lullaby-like tune and a prayer to "Bind up these broken bones / Mercy bend and breathe me back to life / But not before you show me how to die."
Since hearing "Winter Snow" on the radio last Christmas, I've been eagerly awaiting new music from Audrey Assad, but I'll admit I wasn't too taken by this album at first. I loved the raw acoustic charm of "Winter Snow," so when I heard the pop-heavy "For Love of You," it wasn't the Audrey I was expecting, and I almost let my more jaded CCM listener side write it off as an over-produced disappointment. But things change, and first impressions can be deceiving. The more time I spent listening to her piano melodies, her tender vocals, and her earthy, artistic lyrics, the more I found a record that brings something refreshing, honest, and beautiful to the sound of worship music.
This is a complex, rewarding pop debut that reveals something new after many listens. Fans of artists like Nichole Nordeman, Sara Groves, and Brooke Fraser or those looking for intelligent, artistic singer/songwriter pop will find plenty to love in The House You're Building. A beautiful start to a promising career, these songs are a worthy introduction to a talented artist.- Review date: 7/11/10, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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