Thursday, March 28, 2013

Music Review: What a Heart is Beating For by Chris Rice

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: "Pardon My Dust" and "Here Come Those Eyes"
Cons: Not nearly as fun and thoughtful as his old stuff
The Bottom Line:
A couple good tracks
But most are just average
Chris can do better

My Heart is Beating for the Old Chris Rice

When Chris Rice debuted on the Christian music scene a decade ago, he was like a breath of fresh air. His combination of pop and folk was unheard of in Christian circles at the time. And his lyrics were wonderful. At times happy go lucky and at times challenging, they always made you think while smiling.

After four successful releases on Rocketown Records, Chris decided to split off with long time producer Monroe Jones to start the eb+flo label. With that came a change in style and focus. Amusing, the first release under the new label, had a jazzier and rockier feel and a focus almost exclusively on love songs. This new release retains the new style and focus. And since I didn't care that much for the last one, I don't care that much for What a Heart Is Beating For either.

Now before I go on, I do feel the need to explain something. I don't expect a Christian artist to mention God in every song. I enjoy the occasional love song just as much as anyone else. And metaphors are wonderful. But I prefer to listen to music that is focused on God and Christian life. And since I am single, love songs don't do much for me. Frankly, I wonder where all these love songs are coming from since Chris is still single himself.

The first track actually got my hopes up for the disc. "So Much for My Sad Song" is another in the line of happy go lucky tracks from Chris. It's a soft bouncy number that starts out quietly with keyboard and drums. Chris sings about his intention to write a sad song but how the day was just too nice to stay sad for long so he decides to write a love song instead. It's the kind of song that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Ironically, my favorite song on the disc is one of the love songs. (I know, I know. I'm a walking contradiction.) "Here Come Those Eyes" is a jazzy little number that celebrates physical attraction. It's a fun number that gets my feet tapping every time I hear it. I would have sworn there was a saxophone in the song the first time through, but on careful listening, it is just the keyboard.

"You Don't Have to Yell" grabbed me the first time through as well. Guitar leads off this track that quietly makes the point that people will listen to you whether or not you are yelling. It's especially pointed at biased news and talking head political commentators. Considering the news shows I won't watch because I hate yelling matches, you can bet I loved this song.

Another highlight is "Pardon My Dust." Almost bluesy with the guitar and heavy drums, I love the reminder that everyone is a work in progress. The call for patience is powerful and the instrumental bridge is beautiful.

"Kids Again" is a fun number that harkens back to his folk/pop style, albeit with a jazz flair. It's a fun call to have the innocent fun of childhood again. And "Baby Take Your Bow" closes things out on a serious note. This ballad is a moving tribute to someone who has died.

As well as these songs work, the rest of the CD doesn't. His most overtly Christian songs fall flat for me. "Sneakin' into Heaven" approaches soft rock with its catchy hooks. Yet it truly makes no sense until you hit the bridge. It turns out the song is about the fact we can never earn our way into Heaven. But with all the talk about sneakin' it really makes me uncomfortable.

In the past, Chris has done some great ballad like hymns. His attempt here is "Tell Me the Story Again." It's beautiful with the piano background. But it loses my interest after the first verse. This retelling of the Gospels just isn't that interesting.

"Let the Words Escape" is inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Yet this song about the struggle to say "I love you" could use some of her poetic wording.

And finally, please tell me why we need "Lemonade." It's an okay song, not really good or bad. But it was on his last release. And this isn't some new arrangement. It sounds identical to the way it did on Amusing. With twelve original tracks, we hardly need it here.

This is one of those discs where I truly enjoy some of the songs, but I really dislike the rest of them. It's slightly better then Amusing, but not by much. If you liked that disc, you'll like this one. But if you didn't care for it, you'll want to steer clear of What a Heart Is Beating For.

CD Length: 47:08
1. So Much for My Sad Song
2. What a Heart is Beating For
3. Pardon My Dust
4. Love is Gonna Break Through
5. You Don't Have to Yell
6. Punch Lines and Ironies
7. Lemonade
8. Here Come Those Eyes
9. Let the Words Escape
10. Sneakin' into Heaven
11. Tell Me the Story Again
12. Kids Again
13. Baby Take a Bow

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