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Beauty Has Grace - Click to view! I sense through Jaci Velasquez's latest offering, Beauty Has Grace, that the singer has, at long last, found her sound. She first pricked my ears when she was 16, and what 16-year-old really understands who they are as a human being, let alone as a musician? Velasquez was thrown into the market and rose high on the success of ballads like "On My Knees." Besides Rebecca St. James, Velasquez was one of the few teenage singers to make it big since the Amy Grant extravaganza. The music industry can be confusing enough for someone with a bit more of life underneath their belt. But here was a young girl still on her way up, a girl who started crying when a director wanted to pin her hair up for the video of "On My Knees."

Fast-forward a decade. Velasquez now boasts a successful Latin career, romance and marriage, acting experience, and a personal record label (ever heard of a 25-year-old CEO?) But not all is cherry pie in the sky for this girl-turned-woman. Battling a quarter-life identity crisis and heavy depression threw her out of balance. Walking through this valley produced the music and themes of Beauty Has Grace.

A perfect example of growth is "Something Beautiful." Velasquez dares to ask questions like "Can I surrender my life to Yours?" Can a ten-year Christian music veteran ask such a pivotal, albeit obvious, question? Surrender to Christ is the crux of Christianity. But she admits she wants reality: "When all is said and done / Let this be real." Those who search for honesty will face such questions, and every Christian will undergo a similar personal examination at some stage in their walk. In admitting that "There's something more to this / The stories I have heard" ("Reason to Believe"), she not only questions a secular society, but the fundamentals of Christianity. It's a healthy questioning, for it leads back to the Cross and solidifies a faith she once perhaps blindly followed.

The strongest asset in this album is the sound itself. Once a pure pop performer, Velasquez experiments with rock/folk elements in both instruments and vocal technique. The most amazing part of the record is "When You Hold Me," a power-ballad that has Velasquez almost screaming the lyrics through scratchy vocals. Guitars and electronic keys highlight the scratchy, breathy, almost not-pretty singing. Her voice has a distinct Brit-pop sound, something never heard (or allowed) on previous records. The climax of the song actually has her singing-screaming "When you hold me / Put your arms around me more." I welcome the roughness of the moment.

Velasquez no longer sounds like a solo act; the music stands out enough to become "The Jaci Velasquez Band." This will probably never happen, and the instruments remain polished where her vocals do not, but these tracks are definitely more rock-driven with a tint of blues/jazz. Give her a few more years and she could be compared with the likes of Ashley Cleveland, Janis Joplin, and perhaps a touch of CeCe Winans. It's no longer about being the cute teenage singer with the darling voice. Velasquez has become daring. I knew it the moment I saw her chopped hair cut. She is choosing to experiment with the unfamiliar, and grace exists to do this.
- Hollie Stewart
May 2005
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