Sunday, January 16, 2011

Like fall, the colors are exquisite

When I’m With You
Artist: JJ Heller (http://www.jjheller.com/)
Label: Independent
Length: 10 tracks/35:42 minutes

With the world as her medium, JJ Heller creates with beautiful colors on When I’m With You. Warm and vibrant tones characterize love songs like the title track and “Boat Song.” “Tell It Again” and “Until You Came Along” had me wondering if God was the subject or her husband. It is the latter, but there is plenty here for those who savor relationships, both the human and divine.

This recording is a great antidote for the times in which we live, where good is bad and bad is good. It exudes goodness and childlike wonder. There is a gentleness that makes me “believe in love.” Boats and sky, trees and birds take their place in honoring love that blossoms. To employ the language of the psalmist, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10 ESV). Heller’s relationship with God holds these things in harmony.

These whimsical sketches had me thinking of Katie Herzig. The rich spectrum of musical tones brought to mind the early work of The Innocence Mission. The thoughtful lyrics reminded me of Sara Groves. If I didn’t know it was Heller, I would think Groves was performing “Olivianna,” the story of one who has gone to a better place.

Theologian N. T. Wright has written often on the future to come, when all shall be made new. I think he would appreciate “Kingdom Come,” which expresses these things so succinctly. It is the theme of several of his books. Here it is a simple, worshipful look toward the future.

What adds to the beauty is the uncluttered production of Mitch Dane and Ben Shive. It’s an understated collection of pop with folk and rock influences. Heller’s voice is strong and clear, making it easy to hear the words.

Songs like “Control” and “No Fight Left” are an engaging look at an old theme: surrender. Even the cooler tints feel warm.

Heller has become a new favorite with this recording. Like the fall season, the colors on display are exquisite, enriching my life.

Heller gained national attention when her song, “Your Hands,” from Painted Red (2008) was used by a contestant auditioning for the FOX TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance?” A radio station manager, who happened to be watching, decided to play the song for his audience. The station was inundated with calls from listeners who resonated with what they heard. The song was picked-up by nearly 60 Christian adult contemporary stations, including K-LOVE, the largest Christian radio network in the US.

“Your Hands” stayed on Billboard Magazine’s Christian Songs chart for 24 weeks, peaking at #13. Painted Red peaked at #12 on Billboard’s Folk Albums chart.
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