Prime Cuts: Our Song will be Jesus, I Am Not Ashamed, Everything (with Cindy Morgan)
Concept albums rarely work. Often songs don't fall naturally under an overarching theme. And if you try to nuance songs just to expound a theme, often they come across as caricature or repetitive. But not when the theme is as majestic and as encompassing as the Gospel of Jesus. This is because for any song to have any inherent value it needs to emanate out of the Gospel. Lauren Talley in this regard has done a stellar job in allowing these 10 songs to manifest the Gospel and its heuristic entailment. What also works in Lauren's favour is that she has wisely avoided the perennial trapping of writing all the 10 songs here. Rather, relying on (mostly) wisely chosen covers and co-written new tunes, she has managed to keep this album from dragging through monotony.
Lauren is the only child of Roger and Debra Talley. Ever since she was a mere child, she has had been involved in music. Lauren grew up on the road with her parents and uncle (Kirk Talley) who formed the group The Talleys in 1984 making Lauren a year old when she hit the road. By the age of 12 Lauren knew that God's calling for her was to sing. Roger, Debra and Lauren formed The Talley Trio in 1996. It is one of the most popular trios in Southern Gospel music today. In the interim between recording albums with the Talleys, Lauren has had also made a few solo recordings of her own. "The Gospel," released on Horizon Records, is Lauren's sixth solo outing produced by the lady herself.
One significant detour Lauren often takes in her own solo outputs is that she often takes a more popish drive relative to that of the Talleys'. More in the sonic limelight are the drums and guitars, while the more rustic instruments like the fiddle and steel take a back seat. This is true of some (not all) of the cuts here. And they tend to be the poorer songs. This includes Travis Cottrell's "I Believe," a song that suffers from the dated 90s CCM synth sound. And the overcrowded "The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown" doesn't impress either. Though Gordon Mote offers a dynamic performance with Lauren on the single "I Hear a Song," you just can't hear a song that is dissimilar to the countless uptempoes out there on radio.
Safe to say, the rest of the album really escalates in quality from here. A quantum leap better is Lauren's cover of Dawn Thomas' (aka Constant Change) "I Am Not Ashamed." With a brimming confidence and with lots of thoughtful nuances, Lauren's version even eclipses Janet Pascal's original. The ballad "Everything" (a duet and co-write with Cindy Morgan) hits right at the bull's eye of the Gospel. Jesus is more than just an added accessory. Rather, he changes everything. If you are looking for a tour de force performance by Lauren, look no farther than "Our Song Will be Jesus." Written by Lauren, Lee Black and Kenna West, "Our Song with Jesus" showcases the maturity of Lauren to inundate each note with just the right passionate and love, bringing out a beatific sheen on this love song to Jesus.
Two other covers close the album. The first is the penultimate song, Lauren's take of the old hymn "Hallelujah, What a Savior." Lauren's version is good, but the song has sadly passed its expiration date. Closing off the album is a gorgeous string-imbued version of Kristyn Getty's "What Grace is Mine." Just in case you are wondering why the melody is so strikingly familiar, it is set to the tune of "Londonderry Aire" (AKA "Danny Boy," AKA "He Looked Beyond My Faults").
Nevertheless, the greatness value of this record is that these songs teach us to rest, trust, and celebrate in the grace of Jesus Christ. For all our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, and our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves, these actions are diminished as Lauren exalts the unmerited favor and mercy of Jesus on the Cross. When the Cross is central, you can't go wrong.