Style: Smoky, jazz-inflected pop and R&B; echoes of Norah Jones, Elizabeth Shepherd
Top tracks: "Higher Ground," "Mystery of Grace"
Ginny Owens is—and always has been—a songwriter by trade. That's not just a rote statement of fact, but the most essential, fundamental truth of this artist. Before she was a recording artist, before she was a touring musician and a Christian radio staple, Owens was writing and selling songs. She won a Dove Award for her first record, Without Condition, which was very much a songwriter's album, borne of Owens' own identity as a blind musician and performer, as a person of great faith and aching doubt.
A funny thing has happened along the way, though. Owens has become rather good as a record-maker. Her new one, Get In I'm Driving, may not be her best album, but it's probably her best-sounding album. The singer produced it herself, along with David Das and her longtime collaborator Monroe Jones, and the result is—to borrow a phrase from Raphael Saadiq—instant vintage. Sultry and smooth, Owens and her production team fill the album with analog keyboard tones—borrowed in equal measure from the jazz and soul recordings of the 1970s—and beats that split the difference between old-school R&B and contemporary radio favorites.
It's a fun, breezy record, perhaps the first Owens has recorded that could accurately be deemed a summer soundtrack, and it's certainly her most beat-savvy thing yet. But a great beat is not the same thing as a great song, and Get In is curiously lacking in the strong writing Owens is known for. The title song is a good example; the whole song is built on an extended automotive metaphor for giving God the keys to your life. It's a painfully common Christian metaphor for submission and surrender, and this recording pairs it with sound effects of an engine starting. That's not a huge deal in and of itself, but it indicates that Owens is willing to settle for rather hammy gestures here, and, more to the point, for clichés.
"Before You Fly" is a catchy single, but its lyric doesn't go any deeper than the old axiom about, well, falling before you fly. "Lay It Down," a spunky R&B tune, is a little better; Owens stumbles by simply offering her listeners little axioms of advice instead of telling a compelling story ("Lay it down / Everyone's got a burden / That's just part of living / So take the one you're given"), but redeems the song by tying its themes to Christ in Gethsemane.
The best songs here are those that break from the pop idioms employed elsewhere; The Stevie Wonder classic "Higher Ground" here is reimagined as a memorably brooding, atmospheric number that showcases Owens' considerable skills on the piano. As for the rest, there's no doubt that this collection is offered with sincerity; it's just a shame the songs so often shoot for anonymity.
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