The third work in a trilogy often tends either to bomb or soar, but Nichole Nordeman’s latest album, Woven & Spun, does neither. Instead, this album seems to skip across the water of the soul, only occasionally making contact. When it does touch down, however, the impact sends a ripple of truth through both mind and heart.
In an effort to focus more on the goodness of God, and less on her personal faith journey, Nordeman has penned lyrics less original than those introspective and transparent gems of poetry found on her two previous projects, This Mystery (2000) and Wide Eyed (1998).
Yet, fans and critics alike will stop to take in the quiet beauty of “I Am,” in which Nordeman traces the subtle, consistent and comforting presence of God throughout the phases of her life. This gripping and real song reminds us why, with her first two albums, she rocketed from an unknown winner of a song writing contest to the highly-acclaimed winner of the 2001 Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year. The melody is sweet, the piano is soft and the lyrics are passionate and personal.
By contrast, songs such as “Even Then” and “Take Me As I Am” barely register in the consciousness, blending lifelessly into the background. Her treatments of the themes “being thankful despite pain” and “God’s acceptance” do not stand out among the vast array of similar subject matter in Christian music. Musically, the vocals are strained, and the highly-layered music comes off over-produced, lacking either the upbeat appeal of pop or the quiet melody of a piano ballad. Her cover of Peter Gabriel’s often-remade 1989 hit “In Your Eyes,” also fails to deliver anything new or remarkable.
However, the influence of skilled producer Charlie Peacock does not go unnoticed. Together with producer Mark Hammond, who also produced This Mystery, Peacock delivers a couple of genuine toe-tappers, with a great bridge on “Mercies New” and a fun, almost teen pop sound complete with vocal distortion in “Never Loved You More.” Also nicely produced and arranged are “Holy,” “Healed” and “Legacy.” Each song boasts a creative interplay of bass rhythms with Nordeman’s lilting piano melodies, as well as an interesting layering of echoes and distortions of her voice.
Happily, Woven & Spun, which is less a tightly woven thematic album and more a collection of songs, saves the best for last. Starting with an anthem-like rendition of “Doxology,” Nordeman’s voice flows seamlessly into “My Offering,” a lovely and novel description of creation’s role in the praise of God. And just when we feel quite privileged to hear such honest worship, “Gratitude” wraps a simple melody around the complex notion that God is good even when our prayers are not answered in expected ways. The lyrics are simple, but insightful. “Daily bread / Give us daily bread / Bless our bodies / Keep our children fed /…Or maybe not / Not today / Maybe you’ll provide in other ways / And if that’s the case / We’ll give thanks to you with gratitude / A lesson learned to hunger after You…” For those fans of “Every Season,” “Gratitude” will become a new favorite.
While Woven & Spun may not be our pick of Nordeman’s albums, it’s not unlike a package of baseball cards. Not every song is a winner, but we wouldn’t trade the big hitters for anything.