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Constant
Artist: Watermark
Label: Rocketown Records (2002)
Length: 10 Tracks (44:21 minutes)

Arriving nearly two full years after its predecessor, Constant, the third release from married duo Watermark, seems to take a good number of its cues from that which has preceded it.  Like 1998's self-titled debut and All Things New, which followed in 2000,  Nathan and Christy Nockels have fashioned their latest release upon a framework of ballads, worship songs and mid-tempo pop/rock, to mostly fine effect.  "Made for You," an affirmation of honest communication between spouses, features an engaging jazz-tinged texture.  Likewise, Christy Nockels' vocal work - itself a formidable blend of Christine Dente's breathy dissonance, Cindy Morgan's soulful inflection and, say, Erin O'Donnell's pop sensibility - is an exceedingly capable vehicle for the infectious soft-rock of "No Idea."  And the gripping alternation between hushed yearning and grand declaration on entries like "Holy" and "Friend for Life" (Living water, swallow me/ Deepest river, wash me clean/ Jesus, Savior, more of thee) mirrors much of the fine work from the couple's ongoing work with the Passion Worship Band.

The album does run dry in places, with songs such as "Remember" and "Carry You" exhibiting a pleasant, but undistinguished character and, ultimately, leaving little lasting impression.  Still, for the most part, Nathan Nockels production coats the album with just the right fractions of gloss and grit, rendering entries like the soaring, syncopated title track and the gloriously hook-laden "Seek Me" shoo-ins for best-of-album status, not to mention eminently worthy candidates for copious pop radio airplay.  Of course, it goes without saying that commercial success and artistic merit aren't necessarily intrinsically linked.  Nonetheless, Constant stands as the duo's strongest effort to date.  And, considering the third album's heartfelt vocal delivery, tenacious instrumental work and intelligent lyrics, the Nockels' cache of Number One radio singles, multiple Dove Award nominations and cumulative sales of 300,000 plus units all seem very well-deserved indeed.

Bert Gangl 3/11/2002

Hereís a stark confession. Iím not a fan of modern worship music. Itís not that Iím offended by omnipresent worship projects; Iím bored by them. Homogenized lyrical content and song construction has made this subset of Christian music tiresome and tedious. While I donít question the heart, sincerity, or effort of these worship projects, Iím just not generally inspired by what I hear. In contrast, when something fresh and original appears, it stands out like a full moon in the country.

Rocketownís Nathan and Christy Nockels, a husband and wife duo better known as Watermark, have risen above the clamor of sameness with their third recording called Constant. Produced by Nathan Nockels, Constant evokes passionate praise for God, not with lofty and prestigious words and phrases, but with vulnerability and introspection. Traditional sounding lyrics laced with pomp and pageantry are fine. Nevertheless, my soul is stirred most intensely by lyrics which contrast human frailty with Godís character and attributes. Indeed, appreciating the astounding divergence between Godís glory and my fallibility is an effective state in which to worship.

Itís worth the price of admission just for the privilege of hearing Christy Nockels angelic voice. Itís an amazing instrument, alternating between a powerful beauty and an ethereal, almost celestial ambiance. The counterpoint between these extremes is stunning as she transitions effortlessly between the two. Thereís never a hint that Christy might lose her balance or miss a note. She belts the words out with a confidence and poise that belie her professional experience.

After all, the Nockels are relative newcomers to Christian music. They met at Estes Park, Colorado in 1993 at the Christian Artists Seminar, an annual gathering of aspiring artists and songwriters. After marriage and a move to Texas, the Nockels led weekly worship for 3,000 adults at Metro Bible Study at Houstonís First Baptist Church. 1998 brought a recording contract with Rocketown, the label founded by Nathanís mentor, Michael W. Smith. Thus, the birth of Watermark.

The title cut "Constant" serves its purpose as musical cornerstone. Itís a medium tempo song with a steady, reliable beat providing melodic illustration of Godís never changing nature. The words describe many of Godís attributes, with special focus on His immutable character. Changeable as we are, we can always count on the constancy of our Lord.

The second cut, "Seek Me" is written as if God is singing to us, with encouragement to "seek me and when you seek me you will find me and when you find me you will know me and I will not hold anything from you." I didnít know God spoke in run on sentences! Writing from Godís perspective is a songwriting technique that Keith Green often used effectively, but itís tricky to pull off. The songwriter is literally speaking for God. Executed ineffectively it sounds silly and is often doctrinally deficient. 

"Seek Me" provides an interesting instrumental journey. Opening with synthesizer sounds and laid back cymbals, the song quickly moves to a simple, but compelling and memorable acoustic guitar lick. I canít resist the urge to crank the volume at this point. Itís here that Christy begins the vocals. The drums maintain a driving beat, complimenting, not overwhelming. As the chorus reaches its peak, a funky synthesizer sound suddenly appears. If isolated, the synthesizer might sound like something lifted from a Rick James or KC and The Sunshine Bank record, but as an embellishment in an instrumentally eclectic song, it just works.

"Friend for Life" reaches out and grabs me like one too many glasses of wine. It begins as a nice song, pretty but simple and not noticeably intoxicating. Then, before I realize it, I feel an intense compulsion to lift my hands and sway in time to the music. Is it the music or is it the Holy Spirit? Gosh, I donít know, but it sure feels good! At 2:11 into the song, the choir joins in. At this point, I feel like standing. I want to hug somebody. And Jesusí name is mentioned no less than thirteen times. But whose counting? Surely not Nathan and Christy! How refreshing to listen to Christian music that doesnít dilute the gospel in ambiguity.

"Holy" is lifted from Revelation Four. Of all the songs in this collection, itís probably closest to the humdrum worship genre Iíve grown to dislike. Lyrically, this song is an also-ran. Still, with the soaring choir and strength of Christyís vocals, I must concede that itís beautiful.

Forgive me, but something about Nathan and Christy Nockels reminds me of The Captain and Tennille, the wildly successful Grammy winning husband and wife pop duo from the 70ís. Toni Tennille was gregarious, talkative and the lead singer. Daryl (The Captain) was restrained but brilliant as a producer and musician. Their respective talents complimented each other. So it is with Watermark.

Although Nathanís primary singing role is as a background vocalist, his outstanding tenor opens "Made for You". Itís an intimate ballad which explores communication styles between men and women. Nathan confides, "I was totally uncomfortable recording ĎMade for Youí. We are always vulnerable in our lyrics, but it was hard for me to actually say these things. Thatís the first time I ever personally felt that." The blending of the coupleís voices on this cut is nothing short of stunning. 

"Noahís Song" started as a lullaby to the couples son but evolved into a life song for the family. Christian parents everywhere will relate. If you can make it though this one without the proverbial lump in the throat, then you have a harder heart than mine.

Have you become lost in the maze of worship music, crashing into sonic parity at every turn? Its become understandably implausible to believe that a Christian artist could achieve radio airplay, commercial success, and artistic integrity with one project. Thankfully, implausible doesnít mean "impossible." Watermarkís first two releases, Watermark and All Things New combined to sell in the range of 250,000 units. Although solid efforts, they most certainly arenít in the same league as Constant. We could also say the same about the bulk of worship product on the market today. 

Curt McLey   May 19, 2002

 

   
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