Prime Cuts: Matchbox Home, Forgive Me, Lord, Light of the Clear Blue Morning
It's a challenge to try to pigeonhole Heather Rice's new album. Like an exquisite piece of vintage oil painting, there are splashes of folk-country, dashes of New Orleans blues, splurges of New-Age-y jazz, and gallops of old school Gospel. They are all pigmented together to make this eponymous album one of the most enjoyable and colorful albums in a long while. With its variegated styles and its intricate creative nuances, there's hardly a soporific moment on these 10 cuts.
Though Rice has had released a jazz album, this is her first faith-based record. And it is truly a labor of love. At the prodding of her church pastor, Rice was encouraged to write songs that give expression to her faith and her love for Jesus Christ. However, just before the record materialized, her pastor reigned. Feeling like she had just lost her right arm, Rice and her husband preserved through numerous hurdles to finally see the album's release.
Right off the get-go you know you have a killer record in hand when the first track "Matchbox Home" is ushered through the speakers. Flourished with so many well-thought out lines, "Matchbox Home" sounds like what the prodigal son in Jesus' parable would have said to the Father as he makes his way home. Add to the song's equity is the song's drawing melody that calls to mind Dixie Chicks at their tuneful best aided with some gorgeous sounding organ shimmers.
"Forgive Me, Lord," like "Matchbox Home," is one out of the six Rice compositions. This time round, "Forgive Me, Lord" is a soul-baring piano-based prayer of contrition. But don't expect this to be some mechanical prayers lifted out of some stuffy old prayer book. "Forgive Me, Lord" trumps on its attention paid to the details of the prayer's petitions. Rice takes us to church with "So Much Grace." Building up to a crescendo to an explosive old time Gospel sing-along, this is the type of songs that will get the walls of country churches rattling with the Lord's praises. "Stay," on the other hand, has a more contemporary CCM feel. Yet, the song's most rewarding moments reside with Rice's soaring and note-holding vocals.
The second half of the album has a higher ratio of songs not written by Rice. Best of which is her take of Dolly Parton's "Light of the Clear Blue Morning." Hope has never shone with such warmth and tenacity than on this ear-grabbing piece. Then she decelerates the pace for some old school Motown handclaps turning Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" into an old-time spiritual; one that will get us revelling with Rice in the love of Jesus Christ in no time.
This album, in short, is not a haphazard affair. The variegated styles, Rice's passionate and versatile vocals, and the album's claim on songs with solid melodic lines all add color and beauty to what is essentially a well-crafted piece of art.
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