Sounds like … a cross between Sheryl Crow and Derek Webb, with hints of other folk-pop and country greats like Julie Miller, Amy Grant, Mindy Smith, and Jill Phillips

At a glance … by giving character to all the songs, balancing folk introspection with pop accessibility, Sandra McCracken offers her finest album to date

She's been making albums since 1999, her songs have been recorded for Caedmon's Call and the City on a Hill projects, and she's a member of Nashville's Square Peg Alliance. She's probably best known as Mrs. Derek Webb in the Christian music community, but Sandra McCracken had already established herself as an outstanding singer/songwriter in her own right through the indie folk artist community. High time for her to earn more recognition, and her fourth album may just do the trick.

Despite the strong songwriting on The Crucible (1999) and Gypsy Flat Road (2001), both were probably too niche folk for most, and though Best Laid Plans (2004) favored a more accessible acoustic pop sound, it compromised with blander songs. Gravity | Love finally strikes the right balance for McCracken, wedding her Sheryl Crow-styled vocal with her husband's arty roots pop style, with hints of Amy Grant and Julie Miller as well. Rather than dwelling in folksy sameness throughout, it helps that her songs on this album take on more character, ranging from folk rock to piano ballads and even paying tribute to the late George Harrison ("Goodbye George," written by Bleu) with a parade of clever Beatles references both lyrical and musical.

McCracken also finds a strong thematic balance too, interweaving her faith with the everyday. "Broken Cup" blasts pop culture, "Chattanooga" celebrates the journey of life, and "Long Way Home" finds strength to persevere after dreams are crushed. Meanwhile, "Doubt" is smartly directed from God's perspective to anyone who tries to love and believe half-heartedly, while the mournful sounding "Shelter" finds peace in surrendering to the Lord's will. The common thread is this talented songwriter's poetic and original way with words. Continually refining her songwriting, Gravity | Love is McCracken's finest work yet—a folk-pop effort that's intelligent, but also accessible.

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