Over the past few years, Clare Cunningham has been on a journey -- both musical and spiritual. After gaining notice as a singer/songwriter in her home country of Ireland, Cunningham joined the Swedish rock band Thundermother. After a couple albums with that group, Cunningham stepped down to focus on her mental health. Eventually at the end of 2020, she found herself returning to faith in Jesus Christ. Since then, her spiritual revival has sparked a musical one as well, releasing EPs, appearing on a Garth Brooks documentary, and getting some spotlight in the US with an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. Now Clare Cunningham is adding a full-length album to her catalogue in the form of Helping Hand.
This record has been touted as a worship album, and in some ways, that's true. But it feels less like worship and more like testimony. The country gospel sound in the music and Cunningham's voice adds to that feeling. The opening tracks really set up the testimonial nature of the album. "A Voice" tells of how Cunningham rediscovered purpose through Christ. "Somewhere I Want to Live," meanwhile, could become a staple among other gospel artists. The album starts to hit its stride, though, with "Please God," a prayerful tune in which Cunningham admits there is plenty to learn in the faith. Similarly, "Like I Said I Would" declares a commitment to leave the world a better place than how she found it. The back half of the record features a couple tracks that break the musical mould of country and gospel. "Genuflect" is a straight up hip-hop single, while "Too Far From Home" lets Cunningham reveal her Irish accent that she hides in the other songs. Of these two, "Genuflect" is the odder inclusion. Otherwise, Cunningham's lyrics are straightforward yet packed with emotion. They may not be breaking any new ground or pushing poetic boundaries, but her sincere delivery of each line sells every track.
In fact, it's Clare Cunningham's passionate vocals that carry Helping Hand. Her range is truly impressive and each track showcases her talent. She sounds like a born-and-bred Southern girl for most of the tunes, and yet she comes across like a natural pop star on "Genuflect." The musical talent on display throughout the record is also worth noting. It helps that her backing band contains seasoned musicians with impressive credentials largely in the country market.
The overall effort makes Helping Hand a taut record for Clare Cunningham. With a stirring message, soaring vocals, and strong musicianship, this is an album that sounds better than most, and stands out among new releases from "newer" artists. Given the prolific output we've seen already from Cunningham, it's likely we'll see more in the near future. Whatever it is will be worth noting, but until then Helping Hand stands as one of the more solid, well-balanced albums of 2023.- Review date: 8/22/23, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: None
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