Almost two years after founding member Nicol Sponberg (Smith) abruptly left Selah to pursue work in her husband's ministry and her solo career, Selah still struggled to find a female voice to fill the big shoes left by Nicol. Although Melodie Crittenden toured through much of 2005 with the group, for some reason or another her stay was not permanent, and again Selah went searching. That search stopped with vocalist Amy Perry, who makes her official debut as the third member of Selah on Bless The Broken Road: The Duets Album. Not stepping away from the sound they made famous with 2001's Press On and 2004's Hiding Place, the harmonious trio release yet another album with more of the same smooth melodies, but this time adding the voices of ten different artists in the mix.
The album's first single, "Bless the Broken Road," features the aforementioned Melodie Crittenden on a track that's been covered most famously by country group Rascal Flats. The beautiful signature-Selah orchestration accompanies a strong message of hope, "Every long lost dream lead me to where you are / Others who broke my heart they were like northern stars / Pointing me on my way into your loving arms / This much I know is true / That God blessed the broken road / That led me straight to you."
"Gentle Healer," although weaker musically, is given the duty of introducing Selah's new vocalist Amy Perry. Her voice can be compared to folk-singer Allison Krauss because it lacks the power of Nicol's, but is much sweeter sounding than her's as well. Amy is also featured on "Be Thou Near to Me," which has her and Todd sharing the vocal duties equally towards the end of the album.
Other standouts include "Glory," a duet with Nichole Nordeman, which feels more like something she would do rather than Selah. Her voice sounds great as usual and blends very well with Todd's. Former Watermark vocalist Christy Nockels and Square Peg Alliance member Jill Phillips lend their voices to "Faithful One" and "Sweet Jesus," respectively. Both tracks are beautifully arranged and gel well with the rest of the project.
Some of the duets fail to help a few of the songs which were doomed from the start. An example of which is when they try their hand at another African-tinged track, "Follow Jesus (Landa Yesu)," something they attempted on Hiding Place two years back. It tries to sound African but is way too over-produced to pull it off. Nicole C. Mullen's voice further discredits what they were trying to do here. Another miss was "Ain't No Grave," a duet with Jason & Adam Crabb. This would not sound bad coming from a group like Hillsong, but doesn't sound like anything Selah has ever done before, sticking out like a sore thumb.
Critiques aside, the fact remains that Selah is, and always will be, a vocal-group known for their harmonies and beautiful arrangements, not musical ingenuity. While it would be great to hear an album's worth of tracks that go against their self-proclaimed "Selah-sound," there are no reasons to tweak with the formula. If you fill an album with Selah's unquestionable vocal talent, and in this case combine their voices with an A-list roster featuring many of Christian-music's best, people will listen no matter how rehashed it might seem. Selah has got album-making down to a formula, and Bless The Broken Road shows they have no intentions of deviating from what works.- Review date: 8/3/06, written by Andrew Shaw
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