Julie Elias 'A Wild Rose' Album Review
Prime Cuts: I Am Yours, Breathe in Me, Peace I Leave with You
The nail seems to have been hammered in on the casket of ingenuity where today's music is concerned. In today's Contemporary Christian music (CCM), most records seem to be awfully predictable; they are unquestioningly imbued with an avant-grande rock feel awash with clashing guitars and pounding drums over some very predictable monolithic (and at times nebulous) melodic lines. This has produced a same-ness not only across acts but even within songs on a single CD making the listening experience tedious. Few ever had the courage to break away from this incessant radio feeding mold. Then we have Julie Elias. Unlike many of her peers, Elias has not been immersed in this sonic culture; in fact, she's a novice of sorts to CCM. And this by itself is a breath of fresh air. Instead of fashioning herself into the potter radio's hands, she has molded for herself a collection of tunes that show character, individuality and lasting appeal. Never one to be confined to genre restrains, she just lets each of her songs fostered its own style. Thus, on "A Wild Rose," Elias' sophomore album (not counting her festive EP), you will find a potpourri of styles represented including 90s pop, anthemic praise and worship, orchestral big ballads, bluesy romps and even some country flavored pop. If Elias looks familiar, it is because she has come into the music business via Tinseltown. The astute in the entertainment world would have recognized Elias in her roles on TV such as Grey's Anatomy, CSI: New York, Bones, Flash Forward, Weeds and Dexter. Not just on the small screen, in fact, Elias even had a minor role on the movie blockbuster "Due Date" starring Robert Downey Jr., Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
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So, what's she like on record? Vocally, Elias bears some resemblance to Janna Long of Avalon in terms of her ability to sweetly convey her emotions through her softly textured soprano without the need to shout. But this does not mean she's without melisma; when she soars you can hear her supple voice glowing gloriously calling to mind say Nicole Nordeman or Kerrie Roberts. Her vocals are best on display on "I Am Yours." On paper, lyrically "I Am Yours" is just a simple prayer of trust; but when Elias works her vocal magic, this simple plea becomes a heavenly and a Godly petition before the face of our Almighty God. The same goes with the sober hymn-like ballad "Peace I Leave with You." When Elias sings about how God wipes away our tears she sings with gravitas. You can sense that she has delved into her own heart to find the deepest nuances of such a desperate cry and convey them with simmering vividness in her articulation. Even the way she croons the traditional "Be Thou My Vision" she nuances each syllable with thought that explode with a holy grandeur via the swelling epical orchestral conclusion.
There's never a soporific moment on this record: there is something for every musical tastes. Those nostalgic for some 90s pop in the veins of Amy Grant and Sandi Patty would love "Breathe on Me." Never adulterated by today's pseudo rock, "Breathe on Me" is a breezy and a catchy mid-tempo. Fans of anthemic worship music ala Darlene Zschech and Hillsong would gulp up "Lord You Reign." Congratulations are in order as Elias really puts her heart in rousing us to worship with her but the song is disappointed by its lyrically triteness with the use of overwrought clichés (such as "For you are great, amazing/Lord you reign on high, victorious") that needs serious unpacking. The same goes for the somehow edgy rocking title cut "A Wild Rose." The idea that God sees the beauty in us (just as there is beauty in a wild rose) is a great message, there is so much more than this rose metaphor could be develop but yet it laid latent.
Being on an independent label also brings on another wrinkle: the production especially with the overuse (at times) of the synth has caused a dated feel to the whole project. Despite these quibbles, "A Wild Rose" is still a shoulder above many records out there. Elias is first and foremost a worshipper and her love for Jesus oozes in the way she sings; this adds a much need spiritual heft and depth to the disc. And this is not an album that will you want to press the "skip" button as every song has individuality and gorgeously delivered.
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