Two weeks ago I missed seeing Sara Groves in concert. I was disappointed. I almost talked to her. I could have but I didn’t have anything clever to say since I had missed her set. Mostly what I wanted to say was “hey, I’m Meredith’s Dad!” (because Meredith had just finished playing with Jars of Clay) or I thought about saying “I’ve mostly given up on CCM except for a very few artists and you’re one of them” but I heard somebody else say that to Steve Mason (from Jars of Clay) and it sounded really fan-like and I really didn’t want to be “that guy.” So I just smiled and walked on past her. I don’t even think she saw me smile.
But I have liked Sara Groves ever since her album All Right Here came out a few years ago. That album was just about perfect – the songs evoked a wonderful sense of caring for other people, a dependence on God’s grace and a gentle fragility that allowed the listener to feel like we knew people just like those that Sara was singing about. The beautiful songs were complimented by Groves’ voice and Nate Sabin’s production that allowed us to hear all the emotion that the songs deserved.
Her follow-up to that album, The Other Side of Something was again produced by Nate Sabin with some production by Charlie Peacock, but it suffered from a common disorder in artists that have a good quirky record - popification (see my earlier posting about that term). It was like someone – maybe the record company – told her she needed to be more mainstream in order to have a hit. I don’t know why she went down that path but she almost lost me. Sure, there were some good songs on there (like “Roll to the Middle” and the fabulously-funny-but-too-close-to-home “All I Need”) but many of the songs were too obvious and the production too slick.
So when I saw her new album, Add to the Beauty, I was cautiously hopeful. So cautious, in fact, that I passed it up when I saw it on her merchandise table at the concert. After thinking about it for a couple of days, though, I picked it up at a local store. I’m really glad I did. The old Sara is back. I’m not sure the songs are quite as strong as on All Right Here, but they’re close (and, truth be told, that album set the bar pretty high). Groves once again goes back to one of her favorite themes – that the love of God is needed to help us love each other. In Add to the Beauty she doesn’t use a lyrical sledgehammer to make her point but does it gently with directness, grace and sometimes even humor, as in the delightful “To the Moon.” With Brown Bannister in the production chair this time she seems to be back in a place where production doesn’t overwhelm the songs or scream “Look! I’m trying to have a hit!” Groves and Bannister hit just the right balance between art and accessibility. With this album Groves shows that she has the potential to be an artist with a long and interesting career.
A new thing
7 months ago