It has long been conjectured that much of what transpires in the music world is simply a reaction to that which came directly before it. During the latter half of the '90s, groups like *NSYNC, 98° and the Backstreet Boys veritably ruled the roost with their catchy teen-friendly dance-pop anthems. Around the end of that decade and the first part of the next, though, a new batch of artists rose up and fired the proverbial shot across the teen-pop bow. Undaunted by the wide-sweeping success of their high-beats-per-minute predecessors, these intrepid singer/songwriter types set themselves to creating a less frenetic and lyrically more challenging sort of music than that of their heavily-syncopated forerunners; and by the end of 2002, the dance-pop phenomenon was all but passé.
Given the fact that Oregon native Shawn McDonald made his major-label debut just after the teen-pop craze had effectively run its course, it's hardly surprising that the music on his career-spanning latest album - which features stripped-down rerecordings of his hits and fan favorite tracks - bears the unmistakable imprint of those fellow post-millennial contemporaries who rose to fame during that same period of time. "Closer" and his lilting first single, "Gravity," each hew to the breezy adult alternative pop/rock stylings popularized by the likes of John Mayer and Jack Johnson. The likewise endearing "Eyes Forward," on the other hand, is more of a piece with the syncopated blue-eyed soul/pop of performers such as Mat Kearney and Jason Mraz. And the magnificent piano-based ballad, "Beautiful," stands shoulder to shoulder with Bebo Norman and Andrew Peterson's most poignant and intimate organic worship pieces penned over the course of the last ten years.
Whether an artifact of his troubled youth or merely indicative of the singer/songwriter genre in general, McDonald has always been unflinchingly honest and straightforward - an approach that works particularly well with the pared-back performance and production aesthetic of his latest release. Indeed, although the lyrics to tracks like "Gravity" and "Beautiful" ("Watching the sun roll on by/ Beautiful colors painted all over the sky") are hardly the stuff of classic poetry, when placed against the backdrop of McDonald's piercing vocals and heart-rending delivery, they still manage to transcend their grammatical limitations. Similarly, entries like "Captivated" and "Closer" ("Looking for a color in a shade of gray/ Looking for love in a drop of rain/ Trying to find change from the old mundane/ Everything I do just feels the same") show that the always forthright Eugene native can be both literate and insightful when he needs to be.
Despite not quite having achieved the household-name status of, say, Chris Tomlin or Matthew West, McDonald has nonetheless placed eight singles on both the Christian Pop and Adult Contemporary charts. It comes as a bit of a surprise then, that despite having Top 40 hits with "Take My hand," from Live in Seattle (2005), and "Free," from Ripen (2006), the compilation features no material from either of those albums. That said, even with this minor oversight taken into account, the remaining reworked cuts offer convincing testimony to McDonald's inspiring passion and plentiful pop savvy. More significantly, though, the new songs, "Through It All" and the equally well-crafted "What Are We Waiting For," suggest that, despite having a very impressive back catalog behind him, he may just now be approaching the true sweet spot of his creative stride.- Review date: 3/20/13, written by Bert Gangl of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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