Sara Groves is one of those rare artists blessed with a number of communication gifts. The first is a warm and inviting voice that instantly puts the listener at ease, like the sonic equivalent of a warm cup of coffee or your favorite sweater on a cold fall day. A voice this consistently smooth and soulful makes hard truths go down easier and gut wrenching honesty slightly more palatable for the listener to absorb and consider.
Speaking of gut wrenching truths, Sara's songs have been full of them since her debut album ten years ago invited listeners to join in the "conversation" about such tough subjects as relating to an unbelieving co-worker, failure to consult "the Word" in daily life and the tendency to "paint pictures of Egypt" in desiring to go back to familiar, unhealthy spots. Her newest album, Invisible Empires, is no exception to these rules. It's not a radical departure from her past work, but more like one of those great "stay-up-all-night" conversations you have every time you see an old friend.
"Miracle" opens up the dialog with a lone piano and Groves' quiet voice inviting herself and the listener to "lay down our arms, give up the fight, quiet our hearts for a little while" and consider "things that are unspoken, that shouldn't be said," things that "rattle around in our hearts and our heads." With this magnificent, thought-provoking opening invitation, Sara Groves continues the song with a deeply poetic look at how God's love can help to "feel what we cannot feel, know what we cannot know, heal where we could not heal." That love can do these things is why it is a "mystery." An opening song this rich and layered sets the bar pretty high for the rest of the album, and thankfully the rest of the songs deliver.
The title of the album comes from the next song, "Obsolete," and speaks to the fear that many have of being "found out"; that is, being revealed as something that they are not. The metaphor Groves uses for being exposed, "having your skirts showing" may take male listeners a few passes to understand, but once the lines "you don't know where you stand, and did something pass you by, and if you are dismissed, will you get another try?" emerge the universal feeling of smallness and insignificance that we all experience from time to time (though, for many, this is an "unspoken" fear, as mentioned in the first song) is flushed out. Thankfully, after a nifty guitar line in the middle of the song, a word of hope is offered by the way of a prayer of thanks, "Though I walk through these invisible empires you are always there to take me in."
Lest the album be accused of being too weighty, along comes the old Black Gospel standard "Eyes On the Prize" (made popular by Pete Seeger during the Civil Rights movement, and more recently by Mr. Bruce Springsteen) and with its "field recording" intro of a church choir singing the rousing refrain to lighten the mood.
A collection of songs this deep and resonant are rare in any genre, and are truly "art" in the truest sense of the word. Invisible Empires attempts to speak to that place in the heart that so rarely gets spoken to. Sara Groves has opened up yet another great conversation with the world.
- Review date: 10/17/11, written by Tincan Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com