Monday, May 7, 2007

Michelle Tumes

This takes you through Narnia’s wardrobe into a world of enchanting beauty.

At last Michelle Tumes has given us the proper follow-up to her acclaimed first recording. Listen (1999), the Charlie Peacock produced debut, was widely embraced for its creative fusion of pop and classical influences. Her talent for songwriting and layered vocals were also a highlight of the multi-artist Streams (1999) project, which was intended to reach those who suffer from depression. Two subsequent releases on Sparrow records, were a departure from the unique Enya-like music that made Listen so popular. Each of these saw Tumes drifting more into adult contemporary pop/rock, which is often characteristic of artists in the CCM realm.

After releasing Dream (2001), Tumes disappeared from the music scene, until the release of Lost in Wonder: Voices in Worship (2005), a collaboration with Susan Ashton and Christine Denté on contemporary worship songs.

Now with this self-titled release on her own Levantar label, Tumes has given us everything that her first recording was and more. This is Michelle Tumes at her best: excellent songwriting, haunting multi-layered background vocals and plenty of strings that highlight majestic and sweeping music that flows together from song to song. There’s an elegance and beauty that surpasses even what is heard on Listen. It’s this style that sets her apart even from Enya.

In this effort she moves away from guitar-driven adult contemporary pop/rock. Guitars, when heard, are submerged into a mix that highlights piano, strings, and some programmed percussion. A sprinkling of Latin song titles and phrases adds another dimension to her poetic songwriting.

If ever a recording deserved to be associated with the Chronicles of Narnia, this is it. This takes you through the wardrobe into another world. It has that magical quality that evokes the grandeur of mountains, the rolling of thunder, the color of flowers and the beauty of mists that hang over silent and still pasture lands.

Much of that is captured in the lovely "Break Through." In the introduction to the song Tumes writes, "I love the imagery of someone riding through rain and mists to save a heart that has hardened with the burdens of life." This song reminds me again of the elevating power of excellent art. It’s not hard to imagine the hero of a story riding on horseback towards a castle with this as a soundtrack. It’s a pleasure to listen to these moments of inspiring beauty that are scattered throughout this release.

"Lovely Day" matches an upbeat tempo with a cast your cares on God attitude. This is especially good medicine for the melancholy.

Tumes closes with the reflective "Hold Onto Jesus," a song Tumes wrote when she was only 17, but still captures her sentiments today. "When your heart is crying, / your world is dying / You’ve got to hold on to Jesus / When your life has had enough." It’s just Michelle and her piano.

It’s obvious that Michelle’s break from the treadmill of producing recordings each year has rejuvenated her faith and her music. She and husband and co-producer Doug Higgins have given us her best album yet. It was worth the wait to get something that is this excellent.
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