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CONVERSATIONS (2001)
Conversations - Click to view! Why make music? Is it all just another slick business angle to hoard more of the Almighty Dollar? One might think so after sampling chart-toppers like Backstreet Boys or the Christian version Plus One, both big on style, small on substance. 28 year-old Sara Groves sees it all a bit differently, "...working out song ideas has always been like therapy for me. I hope to unveil the things we feel but don't always say about life, about our relationships with each other and with God." Spin her acoustic-based project Conversations, and it's apparent that she accomplishes just that on her first try--displaying gusto, glee, and the sheer glory of well-crafted melodies. The a cappella opening transitions into a hooky pop chorus that admits the limits of reasoning; as early as this "Conversations" title track, listeners feel like they're eavesdropping. Yet Sara's secrets and ideas compel one on, never wanting to miss a minute of this journey. The first four songs flow particularly well, as the driving harmonies of "The Word" acclaim God's never-failing, ever-present truths established before time. With bluesy electric guitar courtesy of Gary Burnett, "Painting Pictures of Egypt" is likely 2001's most profound slice of revelation, capturing the inner complications resulting from lost friends and places: "It's not about losing faith, it's not about trust, it's all about comfortable when you move so much." The ultimate resolve--"The places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I've learned"--reveals that, contrary to today's mostly teaspoon-deep singers, Sara Groves could easily teach a course on Real Christianity 101. She greets the Only Sovereign One with a simple "Hello, Lord," a song that faces the agony of being caught in a confusing "right now" that requires patience. While "Generations" was Groves's first hit on Christian Insp. radio, it is somewhat sappy compared to others on Conversations. Gospel-pop yet still piano-based, "This Journey is My Own" uses the full range of Sara's pleasant voice in a single-minded performance "for an audience of one." "When did I talk to you last, and what has happened since?" sounds casual enough, but this Minnesota poet turns the phrase around to explore "How It is Between Us" (that "us" is her and God). Referencing It's A Wonderful Life and countless "churchianity" sayings, Sara proceeds to pick apart a fear that nags humans young and old: death. This Conversations stand-out reads like a thousand journal entries, following an elderly woman who "...grew up singing about the glory land... but now her friends are dying"--before tying it up in the end, Sara admits freely "What Do I Know?" So keen is her lyrical gift that Groves reimagines the Bible's David, still huddled with his men in the "Cave of Adullam," wondering how a shepherd will become a king (this cut gets a foreign vibe via fiddler Peter Ostroushko). Covering the same allegorical ground as C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, "Going Home" succumbs to restlessness, longing for a far-off place where one truly belongs. Proving her knack for all forms of pop, folk, and inspirational, Sara masters her own hymn arrangement titled "He's Always Been Faithful," complete with a key change near the end. To close the record, a story set in a "Tent In the Center of Town" deconstructs how revival meetings are a bit like a circus. Sara Groves connects with listeners like few songwriters can; her Conversations may be sometimes perplexed, but they're always penetrating.
- Josh M. Shepherd
July 2001
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