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Fields of Grace - Click to view!Hugely successful albums often end up working as both a blessing and a curse for those who make them. While they usually garner their authors a certain amount of confidence when it comes to artistic experimentation and growth, they simultaneously offer an equally large enticement to simply drop back and create a like-sounding follow-up for commercial reasons. With their debut, One and Only, hitting the Soundscan Top 5 during its first week of release, a Dove Award nomination for New Artist of the Year and a leadoff single ("In Christ") which went on to become the highest charting single for a new artist in 2002, it's obvious that at least a few listeners have taken a shine to Big Daddy Weave's particular style of music making.

Fans of the Mobile, Alabama, quintet's first record will be happy to know that the second outing doesn't stray too far from the template laid out by its forebear. Songs like "Pharisee" and the title cut walk in the same Dave Matthews-inspired pop vein carved out by the first album. Others, such as "Be Your Everything" and "Heart Cries Holy" ("Everything inside me / Everything untrue / Oh Lord I surrender / All of it to you") show that the BDW collective's inclination towards straight-ahead, spiritually-oriented language is still very much intact. And, over it all, songwriter Mike Weaver's rich, full-bodied vocals and nimble-fingered fretwork continue to form the axis around which his group's engaging hybrid of pop, soul, jazz and funk rotate.

The abovementioned similarities notwithstanding, Weaver and his cohorts do manage to tweak the formula a bit here and there. Tracks like the lumbering, best-of-album "Set Me Free" are fairly indicative of Grace's edgier, harder rocking sonic approach. Likewise, songs such as "Why" and "New Every Morning" ("Darkness tries to steal my heart / And it comes without warning") pull from a darker lyrical thread than that of the debut. In the same way, the album's occasional orchestral flourishes add a new layer of subtlety and depth to the group's existing sound. Comparisons to the first record aside, poignant, thought-provoking lyrics and stick-in-your-head memorable hooks and melodies arguably constitute the more relevant benchmarks for evaluating any pop-oriented effort. And, to that end, the Fields of Grace release fares quite admirably.
- Bert Gangl
October 2003
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