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Rice’s latest borders on poetry

Analise Lipari | Monday, September 3, 2007

Chris Rice’s latest album, “What a Heart Is Beating For,” is so delectably endearing that repeated listening is not only recommended, but delightfully inevitable. The most recent in the Christian musician’s library, “What a Heart Is Beating For” is more than a shiny pop confection, touching on issues of faith and substance with a lyrical, poetic feel.

All right, freeze. Before any mainstream music fan stops reading their newspaper in annoyance, rest assured that the “Christian” label consists of far more than volumes like “Worship and Praise 152” and anthologies of Gregorian chanting (despite the genuine merits of both). Christian music courtesy of Chris Rice is both spiritual and accessible – he expands on traditional themes and broadens their message, coupling their meaning with catchy, smart lyrics and doing it all in a way that feels more peaceful than preachy. What ultimately results is a highly successful crossover album, appealing to both pop/rock listeners and fans of Christian musicians like Matt Redman and Stephen Curtis Chapman.

The album opens with “So Much for My Sad Song,” a sweet little ditty about a sour mood turned right. With elements of piano, trumpet and electric guitar, Rice creates a more complex track than the admittedly cute subject matter might indicate.

Immediately following is the title track, “What a Heart Is Beating For,” a sweeping creation whose unassuming beginning gives way to some of Rice’s most powerful (and, truthfully, spiritual) songwriting. “Why be afraid, no reason to hide/ take the chance, put it all on the line/ draw in a deep breath and throw open the door/ ‘Cause that’s what a heart is beating for,” the chorus goes, gently urging listeners to simply be open to the transformative power of love. It’s a refreshing message, and an unexpectedly welcome one in modern times of anger, stress and anxiety.

Further on, Rice muses more seriously on the outside world with “You Don’t Have to Yell,” a subtle indictment of the talking heads and vitriol in today’s media. Rather than condemning, however, Rice presumes a real goodness in his fellow man by asking this hyperactive world to just take a deep breath. With a straightforward, understated rhythm that couples well with its message, “You Don’t Have to Yell” is a successful version of the multifaceted modern protest song.

Other notable tracks include “Here Come Those Eyes,” with Rice sounding something like a rockabilly version of Jack Johnson; “Lemonade,” whose sweet-without-being-saccharine version of the “life gives you lemons” metaphor is enough to make Oscar the Grouch crack a smile; and “Tell Me the Story Again,” the album’s final song, a downright lovely opus devoted to the unending power of the Gospel narrative. “Now plunge/ With his guilty sins/ In the cleansing waves/ Wash his sins away/ Oh, happy day,” Rice sings in the chorus, creating a beautiful image of salvation without pushing his listeners too far.

The iTunes version of “What a Heart Is Beating For” adds two bonus tracks: “Kids Again,” Rice’s spunky ode to the joys of childhood, and “Baby Take Your Bow,” a gentle song of goodbye. Both are fine additions, but the album would be just as good without them.

“What a Heart Is Beating For” is that rare breed of crossover album – it attracts new listeners at no expense to its original fans, and holds true to its roots without feeling restricted by them.