The strong success of Shawn McDonald's album Simply Nothing can be largely attributed to the broad appeal his music has to many different audiences. He brought forth a mixture of acoustic pop, rock, mellow worship, and even a bit of hip-hop. His debut was so successful that he released a live album (Live In Seattle) only eight months after his major record label debut. The time has finally come for his next studio release, Ripen, and expectations are high.
Just like on his debut, Shawn does almost everything on his own, which is one of the things that make his music so impressive. He doesn't need a band helping him in order to make stellar music, and that fact is as clear as ever on Ripen. His passionate, unique vocal style captures the ears of listeners and holds them captive. With Shawn, it almost seems like the more broken down a song is, the better it becomes. He is able to make masterful music with nothing more than a guitar in his hands. On Ripen, he does this more than ever.
This is an extremely mellow album, which may come as a bit of a surprise to some, considering the album's title. One might be led to believe from its name that this record might have a more upbeat and happy feel to it, but the majority of the fifteen tracks present are slow and tranquil, often soothing and always moving. However, a deeper look into the meaning of the album title reveals that the theme of the record has more to do with the process of growing and maturing than with the end result, and the words of the songs show it.
Many songs on the album including "I Am Nothing" and "Confess" admit human weakness and the need for life found in Christ. The first single for radio, "Free," expresses a desire to be "free to dance and free to sing, free to live and love and free, oh free to believe." One of the standout tracks is "Perfectly Done," which encourages listeners to embrace themselves as God made them, saying "Don't you know Daddy cares, He will never leave you, 'cause you are perfectly done." The instrumental "Imago" is an exciting and distinct song that truly showcases Shawn's talents and is a joy to hear.
Ripen is an exceptional follow-up to such a superb effort as Simply Nothing. The lyrics in some songs do seem quite similar to others, however; also, the album may be too mellow for some and lacks a standout upbeat track equivalent to Simply Nothing's "Take My Hand." Still, this is a finely crafted composition and one that stands out from the flood of ordinary contemporary Christian albums. Worthy of listening to many times over, Ripen is a solid achievement from a remarkably talented musician.- Review date: 3/4/06, written by Spencer Priest
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