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The Beautiful City
Artist: John Michael Talbot
Label: Troubadour for the Lord
Time: 12 tracks/52:51 minutes
Changes can rejuvenate an artistís career. A new producer, a different sound, and unique collaborations have revitalized the work of different artists. John Michael Talbot has always had a steady and loyal following, but his latest work could serve to expand his fan base beyond those who favor his contemplative side. His desire to once again become proficient at playing the electric guitar has fueled his creative energy. Using rock and a full band sound has given birth to songs that go beyond acoustic boundaries.
This release is a little more sophisticated than Monk Rock. Some of the songs on Monk Rock consisted of chants or short songs lyrically. The lyrics and the production are more fully developed here. The sound is a little fuller and more polished. Subtle synthesized elements grace the music. 
As on the prior release, there are multiple guitars and a lot of John Michaelís layered harmonizing, which is always great. 
The title song, a reference to New Orleans and the Katrina disaster, is one of several highlights. Previously it was only available as a digital download to benefit Katrina victims. Ironically, the song has a swirling and muddy mix, but it fits in well with the others on this recording. The driving music builds to a crescendo with lyrics describing the tragedy. It ends on a hopeful note with a beautiful background chorus of "She will rise again."
This and "Holy Man" were co-written by John Michaelís brother Terry. In general, The Beautiful City is a more electrified and less acoustic and folksy version of the Talbot Brothers. One exception, "Love One Another," which is similar in sound to their Reborn days, is the most acoustic song on the recording. Itís a wonderful piece of folk-pop with inspirational lyrics. Note to John Michael: please give us more of this. Itís absolutely beautiful.
The sweet and quieter-sounding harmonizing on the chorus and the driving, classic rock of "Heal Me" make it one of the standouts.
In what seems to be a nod to the Cream classic, "Crossroads," John Michael sings, "I went down to the crossroads to see what I could find." Blues-rock chords that are reminiscent of the Cream song punctuate the words. Who would have guessed that John Michael would be sounding like Eric Clapton? The music on the song is a great fit with lyrics that play-up the imagery of Satan being a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. This is one of the strongest songs.
There is an ample amount of celebratory classic rock sprinkled with Jerry Lee Lewis-type piano playing or layered with the sounds of an organ. A couple of songs feature some subtle banjo playing. There are a number of blues-rock tunes, but minor keys are mostly absent. You wonít find brooding and haunting here.
John Michael Talbotís career has never languished, but his foray into rock has given rise to new creative expression. This will no doubt expand his audience. But for those like me, who also enjoy his quiet side, letís hope that we also see more of that in the future. He may be at this best when he sings those simple, worshipful songs with stark arrangements. How much better can one get than songs like "The Magnificant: Prelude of Faith/Holy is His Name," "The Hiding Place," "Come Worship the Lord (Psalm 95)" and "I Am the Bread of Life"?  For now, those who appreciate his musical and artistic genius can revel in this new phase of a long careeróthis is his 49th release.
Michael Dalton
July 20, 2006



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