Since the release of her debut, Take Me Away, on Gotee Records, Sarah Kelly has been a sort of hidden treasure in the worship music circle. Her sophomore record leaned more towards a classic rock record with less of a focus on vertical worship, but all that changed again with 2008's more accessible pop worship approach, Born To Worship. Now, Kelly is without the label support from Gotee as she releases her fourth album, Midnight Sun, carrying on the heart to worship, but returning more to the sound established on her debut as well.
Midnight Sun gets off to a wonderfully strong start right out of the gate with "Live Every Love Song." As the album continues the indie pop sound into "Standing On My Knees" and the beautiful title track, each song captures the artist's worshipful heart and the introspective nature of her sophomore album Where The Past Meets Today in the process. "Stolen My Heart" may be the first straight forward worship track on Midnight Sun, with its personal, classic Kelly spin ("But the best came and left me / And I took a fall somehow but I'm standing taller now / You lift my head, re-move my heart / It's You I needed from the start / You have stolen my heart"), but it's after these songs that the album really begins to shift gears rather drastically. "Good Day" may be the ugly duckling of the ten tracks, opting for a more rock approach, but more in the same bubbly vein as "Brand New Day" and the title track from her last album, Born To Worship. Unfortunately, while it captures the genuine joy and optimism of God's grace and redemption that Kelly so boldly embraces and wears on her delicate sleeves, it feels rather misplaced among the rest of the songs, which often bear a more serious tone. "Lift You Up" follows, also with an edgier rock vibe, but does a much better job capturing Sarah's passion for rock with a tasty groove and vertical lyrics of thanks and praise ("I just want to thank You for all you've done for me / We lift You up / We lift You higher"). Kelly's vocals soar here, using her talents better than on its preceding track, and the electronic elements are much more effective (ever so slightly bringing to mind the kind of delightfully fuzzy synths you might hear from Family Force 5).
After Kelly's unashamed rock interlude, she heads into a series of worship originals for the masses, starting with "Day and Night." Musically, again, it's more of a mix of her debut and her previous effort, Born To Worship, capturing a more accessible worship sound. Kelly also softens her vocals from her usual, signature soulful approach. The songs still work, especially on a corporate worship level, and those who might not usually like her raspy rocker gal vocal style will likely find this latter half of the record more appealing. "Always Undeniable" and "Surely Goodness" follow suit and are catchy worship anthems that would sound great added into any Sunday morning service. To close, Sarah returns to the piano for the more soulful "How Much You Love," ending Midnight Sun in a beautiful, intimate, and worshipful way ("Father and friend, with You I am safe in the same hands / That painted the stars when time began / Help me to understand / How much You love me / How You're always thinking of me").
In 2005, Kelly's then label mate John Reuben sought out to create two different projects -- one more cynical and dark, and one more upbeat and happy. The label decided to have Reuben combine the best tracks from both albums and The Boy Vs The Cynic was the end result. While I wouldn't say that Kelly has such a broad spectrum of themes on Midnight Sun, the album does feel a little bit like two different projects that were combined into one ten-track journey. Kelly proves she can write songs for the church with the best of them, however, her greatest strength seems to lie with the songs that are personal, intimate, and out of the box. Midnight Sun represents the many layers and versatility of Sarah Kelly as an artist and worshipper, but simultaneously feels more like a compilation than a cohesive album.
Still, by the time her the strings fade out on the album's piano ballad finale, Sarah Kelly has done it again. As she continues to bridge the gap between the over-saturated sameness that makes up the majority of what we consider "worship music" today with art and heart, Midnight Sun offers a little bit for everyone. Maybe Kelly's fourth effort may have benefited from a more focused and consistent approach, it's difficult to say, but anyone looking for something fresh and thought-provoking, with the likelyhood of stirring the heart towards worship, Midnight Sun is well worth giving a listen and sharing with the Church.- Review date: 9/5/10, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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