The light, cross-genre pop of Natalie Grant's 2003 LP, Deeper Life, wore its Christian and inspirational themes well, and gave her powerful vocals plenty of big-note opportunities. A lot of people noticed -- "No Sign of It" had some mainstream success on the soundtrack for Gwyneth Paltrow's View from the Top, and "Live for Today" garnered a Dove Award nod for Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year. Grant herself was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year. Though she released a straightforward praise album in 2004, the singer revisits the sound of Life with the vibrant, heartfelt Awaken. Bright, Crayola-style primary colors burst from its lyric book, and the extensive photography features Grant smiling comfortably in contemporary fashions akin to a country-pop diva. (The look befits her duet with Wynonna on the modernist country gospel of "Bring It All Together.") The Mother Theresa prayer quoted in its liners points to Grant's Christian heart, and the title track speaks to the Lord directly while showcasing her soaring vocal. But Awaken is happy to praise Jesus over sparkling alternative-derived guitar pop, as "Something Beautiful," "Captured," or the Michelle Branch-style "What Are You Waiting For" prove. It also takes the non-specific approach -- lyrics like "Everywhere your love surrounds me" can be as romantic as they are reverent. "Another Day" is a tribute to family, while "Home" is an ambitious ballad complete with soaring strings. "You Move Me" returns to referencing the Lord directly over slick, reverby acoustic guitar, and "Live for Today" is another confidence booster/worship song defined by its rousing chorus. Though strong, the melodies on Awaken sometimes feel recycled, and its manicured instrumentation lessens the power of Grant's singing voice. But the album is still a capable blend of Christian themes with mainstream pop texture, meaning it deserves the same accolades Deeper Life received.
by Johnny Loftus
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