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Simply Nothing - Click to view!Those who are forgiven much really do love much. Shawn McDonald would say he's had a lot to be forgiven for. Being actively involved with the drug lifestyle didn't remove the emptiness, so he turned his life over to Christ and the drugs over to the toilet. The very next day, after cleaning house, the cops raided his apartment, hunting for a ticket to jail. McDonald soon began writing music to reflect his change of heart, playing in various Seattle coffee houses, and it earned attention from both secular and Christian music labels. Sparrow Records ended up snagging the folk/pop performer. It's quite a rags-to-riches tale for a man who once could hardly perform before crowds without physically shaking in fear. What keeps him going is a deep fervor to perform music that glorifies his Savior.

Being true to his musical sensibility, Simply Nothing creates a soothing atmosphere reminiscent of good coffee and stimulating conversation. The music consists of acoustic guitar, sparse BGVs, some percussion, and limited programming. Each song remains musically meager, but I see this as a strength rather than a weakness. The perfect example of this is found in "Take This Life." A piano intro bleeds into classical guitar and a simple shaker. Another illustration is "Beautiful," consisting of acoustic guitar and violins. Each track displays how good a song can sound without being overproduced and instrument-busy.

"Here I Am" and "Yahweh" sound like they were recorded from a college small group meeting; they hold an intimate worship feel that is only magnified by the lack of instruments. I do wish that violins weren't used in "Here I Am." I wonder how "pure" it would be to have McDonald's vocals and guitar as the song's core; there's so much raw energy in his voice and guitar. When one isn't appreciating the arrangements, the vocal work keeps one attached to the tunes.

While instrumentation may be minimalist in nature, the elaborate rhythms used throughout the CD keeps me listening. McDonald's single "Gravity" hooked me. A catchy, almost urban guitar beat got my feet tapping immediately. McDonald rap-sings his was into a chorus of intricate guitar, drum and bass work. The vocals fit perfectly in zealous and metrical expression, and the lyrical content is catchy enough to compete with any pop song: "This world keeps making me cry / But I'm going to try, going to try to fly, going to fly high / Don't want to give into the sin, want to stay in You 'til the end / Don't want to lose my sight of You / Don't want to lose my sight." If singles are marketed to get people to buy the project, "Gravity" works extremely well.

Perhaps due to the nature of his conversion, Simply Nothing distinctly focuses on Christ. Each song is either directed toward Him or toward the audience, describing His character: "Well, stop looking, 'cause He's right in front of your eyes / 'Cause He will never give up on you today" ("Don't Walk Away"). Shawn McDonald knows first-hand the loyalty of God. His simple expression of gratitude rings true in an industry that often lacks similar passion.
- Hollie Stewart
May 2005

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