The key to the success of the three-CD Hugs series is producer Glenn Wagner's ability to make each song a different tempo and feature a different lead instrument, so that it doesn't just become a wallpaper pleasantry. Michael W. Smith's "This Is Your Time" is sax-driven, while Steven Curtis Chapman's "Heartbeat of Hope" is guitar-oriented (acoustic on the verses, edgy and electric on the chorus) with some graceful piano harmonies. Wagner tries to make hipness out of "You Light Up My Life" by giving it a modern techno groove and slick electric guitar melody, but it's hard to relieve that song of its clichéd cheesiness. James Taylor's "Shower the People" offers a simple, folksy acoustic guitar melody. "Amazing Grace," enhanced here with electronic keyboard effects, could benefit from that kind of organic approach. One of the nicest touches is Christa Black's lush violin on the chorus part of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"; this lends a stately, classical flavor to the piece. Like its two sister CDs, Hugs to Encourage and Inspire has a companion inspirational book as part of its marketing campaign.
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AllMusic Review by Jonathan Widran