Image © Sparrow Records 2002
Image © Sparrow Records 2002
(29 September 2002)
Those of us who know and love Nichole Nordeman point to
lyrics like those and say, "See? This is why we keep those
two CDs in the car at all times because a drive isn’t a
drive without Nichole as a musical co-pilot." This is why
we tell our friends you have to listen to these songs--especially this one, or that, at this particular time in your life, because it will hit you right where you live right now. Nichole Nordeman's latest album is entitled Woven & Spun (Sparrow Records (USA) SPD 51934, 2002). Twelve tracks comprise this latest release.
People got excited about Nichole's music mighty fast. It
seemed like one day she won a songwriting contest in
L.A. and the next she got a record deal and moved to Nashville and then had a couple of #1 radio hits and then won the Dove Award for GMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 2001. She toured with Steven Curtis Chapman. Christian music’s favorite Male and Female Vocalists, on the road, same stage, huge arenas, big time.
There are certain assumptions regarding artists of
Nichole Nordeman’s ilk. This poetic piano player with the insightful lyrics and the clever turn of a musical phrase will find a good niche and keep it. There’s a core of music fans who love acoustic singer-songwriter types, so it makes for a steady career, not flashy. Not Big Time.
Over the course of a scant two albums, barely enough
to launch a career, the former Colorado Springs kid
who played piano in her home church and sang every
Amy Grant song there was found herself awash in
recognition, much to everyone’s surprise and delight.
Surprise, delight--and suddenly, much higher expectations.
Introspective singer-songwriters generally don’t win
the big prizes.
"It felt wonderful," says Nichole. "But that raised
the bar in a big way, even if no one said it out loud,
and even if I was the one raising it." So, with a
great big Dove Award, great big expectations, and a
highly-anticipated third album, Nichole set about
crafting songs for the new project. No problem, right?
"I sat down at the piano and I just couldn’t write. I had
a hundred things to say, a hundred song titles in my head.
I just assumed that because what I really wanted to write
about was God’s goodness and how that goodness is woven
into the everyday moments, that the writing would be easy.
Instead, I would just sit and stare at the keys for months
at a time."
At some point, inward thoughts worked their way into internal rhymes, and deep emotions passed from heart to hands on suspended fourth chords: line by line, word by word, came songs. And it did take time. "I wouldn’t even call it ‘writer’s block,’ it was like ‘God-block’. I knew I just had to take that time and soak up the silence, instead of resenting it. I had to listen and wait."
Her music has been called "introspective and intelligent," and she refers to herself rather self-effacingly as a "wrestling poet." You can read her lyrics, ponder them, without ever hearing the music. "I don’t generally write songs that are easy to sing along with. You’re forced to do the hard work of listening, which is great, but there are many moments on the record where I thought, ‘I just want this music to be accessible enough for someone who’s driving down the road or sitting by themselves to be able to detach from the lyrics for once, and to really worship, to sing along, to let go. We had a lot of discussions about that during the recording process."
"We" in this case means producer Charlie Peacock--his first time at the helm with Nichole--and returning producer Mark Hammond, who produced her first two records, This Mystery (review) and Wide-Eyed. This patient team no doubt believes the songs were
worth the wait, as Woven & Spun sends Nichole’s artistic accomplishments wheeling to new levels. And you can tell she poured everything she had into every note.
"I’m very attached to these songs for that reason, because it was a real labor of love." Speaking of love--besides the Dove Award, the writing, and the touring, there was a wedding. Hers and Errol’s--the love of her life, her husband, the reason she left Nashville and moved to Dallas. The two hit it off when mutual friends in Texas arranged a
casual group get together: "Our friends had been bugging us forever to meet each other. Eventually they just wore us down. I knew immediately that he was the one--it took him a little more time." Not much time though. Six months later they were engaged, and just a year after meeting, they were married.
"It made a lot more sense for me to relocate to Dallas than for him to come to Nashville, since I was still traveling so much. Besides, there are some real benefits to having some distance from the Nashville scene. It doesn’t always feel like a practical choice, but in other ways--like plugging into a community of friends that isn’t a part of Christian music--is good for me, and for us. It helps me separate my work from
my personal life.
As all newlyweds know, marriage has its challenges, and the life of a touring musician has particularly odd ones. "I used to say ‘yes’ to everything that had to do with my career, with not a lot of forethought or intention. The challenge in discerning God’s voice from the voice of my own ambition has been major growth for me. I’m saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for two people’s lives now. The concepts of sacrifice and compromise are probably like Marriage 101 for most people, but it’s taken me awhile to get it."
Nichole credits Errol with being "the voice of reason" in her life, gently challenging her to develop relationships at home, despite being gone so often. "He said to me, ‘It can’t be healthy that most people at our home church probably know your name and might buy your records, but
don’t really know you. Let’s do something about that"’ And that’s been so helpful to have his help in creating some boundaries and examining my priorities."
He’s also a great sounding board. "My husband is a great everyday, Consumer Joe guy. He’s not a musician or a writer, so when I play him a new song, if he says, ‘What exactly are you trying to say here?’ I know it needs some rewriting."
The struggle, the ‘God block’, the months staring at the piano keys--so what has come of it all? The songs are still intelligent--Nichole can’t help that. But they’re "lighter," she says, in tone, because she’s happier than she’s been in a long time. The theological wrestling continues, but for this season, it’s more like playing with Daddy on the living room floor.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com here. Like the albums that precede her latest,
Woven & Spun is a tremendously produced work with stunning vocal work, rich production and the outstanding overall quality we expect from the Sparrow label--a must listen!