|LABEL: Reunion Records|
SPECIAL EFFECT(S): Daily Planet lead singer/songwriter Jesse Butterworth co-writes four of the 10 songs on this album.
PRODUCER(S): Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Avalon)
Without all the summer's American Idol hysteria, it would've been a lot easier to push play on the new Joy Williams disc. After all, how much pre-fab Top 40 pop fare can one person reasonably take?
But, after spending some quality time with By Surprise, Williams' sophomore effort, I was pleasantly surprised, indeed. A big step forward from her self-titled debut, By Surprise attempts to move beyond the dance-pop sound that has saturated mainstream and, subsequently, Christian music in favor of a more organic, live sound. Sonically — thanks in no small part to the wizardry of producer Brown Bannister — it's a groove garden of funky rhythms, layered guitars and rolling percussion.
More impressive than the sonic shift, though, is the breadth of vocal ability. Sure, she's always had a booming, raise-the-roof set of pipes, but so do most soloists with a record deal. By Surprise confirms that she has more than that. She's emerging from the wonder years and beginning to establish a vocal style of her own.
Beyond that, this is a strong collection of songs, many of which display Williams' potential as a songwriter. With such a stellar team as Regie Hamm, Rob Graves, Jason McArthur and David Mullen, you can expect a good crop of radio-friendly songs, if not more. And Jesse Butterworth of Daily Planet adds a twist of originality to just about everything he touches.
So the next time I see Idol's Kelly Clarkson, I'll wish her well and hope that by the time she releases her second album, she'll have come as far as this new kid has.