ReviewsConcert ReviewsFilms

Top 10ResourcesStaffFeedback


Blue Waters
Artist: Sheila Walsh
Label: Integrity Music 
Length: 11 Tracks (43:07 minutes)

Beautiful, Scandalous Night 
Blue Waters 

Sheila Walsh has been performing Contemporary Christian Music for some twenty years and her recorded catalog arguably stands as one of the most eclectic and narrative of the genre.  Walsh, who was born near Glasgow, Scotland, began her musical career after graduating from London Bible College, touring Europe with Youth For Christ, an evangelistic musical crusade.  The exposure from the YFC outing led to Walsh's hosting "The Rock Gospel Show," England's first prime time Christian music program, and subsequently releasing her debut album, Future Eyes, in early 1982.  Future Eyes and the albums that followed it were laced with the punk rock sound that had swept Britain in the late '70s and early '80s.  Walsh subsequently moved to the US and, by 1987, was chosen to co-host CBN's 700 Club.   In light of her new and broader audience, the albums released in the late '80s and early '90s were far more subdued efforts, alternately mining pop, inspirational and adult contemporary territory, including 1990's Hymns and Voices, an a capella album of classic hymns.  In 1992, Walsh was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and admitted to a Washington, DC, psychiatric hospital.  After her release, she resigned from the 700 Club and did not record again for seven years.  In 1998, she released Hope, a collection of Celtic-flavored worship songs.

The worshipful orientation and Celtic essence of the Hope album are, for the most part, retained on the latest release, Blue Waters.  Songs like "Finally Home" and the title track, for instance, use intricately layered orchestral flourishes and a diverse list of acoustic instruments to highlight the songs' characteristic Celtic melodiousness and lilt.  But, where the bulk of the Hope album fused the Celtic stylings to mostly straight-ahead adult contemporary pop numbers, the song base on Blue Waters is quite a bit more eclectic.  The beautiful "Introit" uses a swirling instrumental section and a heavily-layered, wall-of-sound vocal treatment to give the song an ethereal, almost ambient, character.  The muted electronic percussion track of "Saving Grace," on the other hand, instills the song with a slight hip-hop feel.  And, the liberal sprinkling of bagpipes, sitar and flute on "Beautiful Scandalous Night" give the magnificent remake a distinctly folky spirit.  Perhaps the most distinguishing feature, though, between the new album and its predecessor is that the songs on Blue Waters boast more intricate arrangements and a heightened pop sensibility which serve to make Blue Waters catchier and more instantly memorable than the Hope record and, indeed, a substantial portion of current inspirational and worship-oriented efforts.

Lyrically speaking, Blue Waters, like the Hope album before it, serves as a sort of loose concept album, broadly chronicling the various stages of Walsh's struggle with, and victory over, her mental illness.  "Throne of Grace" (I can hear the silent tears/ Above the laughter) revisits the scene of the initial emotional decline, while "Blue Waters" (Holy, holy, my Redeemer/ Catching every tear I cry) harks back to the anguished cry for deliverance.  On the other side of the coin, "Saving Grace" (For no one else could love so true/ And all has changed because of you) details God's intervention and liberating work on the sufferer's behalf.  And "Finally Home" (And I'm laughing out loud/ And I'm finding out/ Just who I am in you) stands as an exuberant and inspiring declaration of newly found freedom. But, even though the album is constructed specifically around Walsh's journey into, and through, emotional despair, the themes on the album manage to strike a particularly stirring parallel to the important universal themes of spiritual lostness, salvation and sanctification.

All said and done, the Blue Waters release is a superb effort from nearly start to finish. On it, Walsh is able to construct a musical landscape that is able to take in elements of each of the many musical styles she has covered over the decades and still remain marvelously unique. And, wordwise, it is a beautiful portrait of brokenness and grace whose honest approach and gut-level lyrics make it the most accessible album of Walsh's extensive career.

Bert Gangl (3/26/00)



Copyright © 1996-2000 The Phantom Tollbooth