Following dual worship albums, a contemporary pop release, and his first shot at acting in a feature film, Michael W. Smith returns to music with a renewed vision for music with his nineteenth album, Stand. Smith has become somewhat of a staple in contemporary music and Stand is a daring attempt to break out of the mold from which Smith has created over the years. To accomplish this, Michael has enlisted help from the producing talents of Matt Bronleewe and has surrounded himself with some of the best songwriters, including young prodigy Leeland Mooring (from newcomers Leeland), Amy Grant, Martin Smith (from Delirious?), and even his wife and children (on "Come See"). The end result is a personal and intimate pop record with plenty of worshipful moments.
Stand gets off to a strong start with the piano-driven pop/rock vibe of the worship-minded "Cover Me." Smitty's vocals are visibly more raw and gritty, forsaking the polish and overproduction of a lot of CCM. Because of the album's more stripped-down appeal, Stand just might be this artist's most accessible record of his impressive career. "Open Arms" is a melodic call to action for believers to usher in the lost while "Come To The Cross" is an upbeat, anthemic invitation to find solace at the feet of Jesus. In fact, a lot of what Stand is about is calling Christians to action. "The Stand" and the theatrical heights of "Come See" and "In Silence" are energizing anthems for the church and strong album highlights that are liable to ignite the hearts of believers. But there are just as many tender and delicate moments as well, including the powerful and heartbreaking ballad "How To Say Goodbye," the thoughtful "Grace," and worshipful "Be Lifted High." Oddly enough, the record closes with a complete stylistic shift for the motown, Stevie Wonder throwback "Escape Your Love." Smith pulls off the task with class, however, despite the fact it doesn't necessarily fit with the rest of Stand. While an earlier version of the record ended with "Come See," giving the album a more profound finish musically and lyrically ("Come home / Come lay your burdens down / Come home / His arms are open..."), "Escape Your Love" leaves the listener on a much lighter note.
Stand marks a new chapter in Michael W. Smith's prestigious career. Fresh, creative, bold, and inspirational, Stand is the Michael W. Smith album many, including this particular reviewer, have been waiting for and is incidentally one of 2006's best pop offerings.- Review date: 11/4/06, written by John DiBiase
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