Sarah Macintosh Current as reviewed by Phantom TollboothFresh approach to CCM shows a Gungor influence - and more than a flicker of Kate Bush

Label:     Integrity
Time:     11 tracks / 45 Minutes

Listening to Sarah Macintosh gives a clue as to how the CCM industry thinks. Stuck for years in a formulaic, creativity-denying state, two artists recently have pointed to a way out: Gungor and Rend Collective Experiment. Neither is particularly revolutionary in the wider scheme of things, but they both feel fresh and exude a hint of the musical landscape post Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes.

While she does not sound directly like either of these, Macintosh seems to be one of the first artists to benefit from the wider sonic palette that now seems acceptable in CCM. More than that, she may well influence the sound further, as she brings her own chamber-pop style to this disc.

At the start of the album (“Current” and “Laughter Comes Upon us”) we hear both strings and vocal loops used in a way that sends a freshening breeze through the songs. Later, “Galaxy Former” deepens the sound’s Kate Bush similarities. Given that these tracks were produced by J.T. Daly and Sarah’s husband, Jonny MacIntosh, it’s probably safe to say that Sarah Macintosh has felt free to have a strong say on how she wants them to sound.

Alongside all this, she has a very poetic way with her lyrics. The praise songs include beautifully concise and vivid lines like “Impossibly close, tenderly held” and “Tucked up against His scarred ribcage, right here is where I want to stay,” while “The Damaged” is more impressionistic as it talks about coping with the hurt in life: “Keep binding, sewing, mending, no one notice - hush hush”.

This balance is true to the whole disc, with several songs of praise interwoven with songs that deal with more difficult issues. The title track talks about the pressure the world around us puts on marriage
     Life is a current
     Pulling us out to the sea where we can’t see
     And danger waits for us
     Preying on those who hold closely and tightly.
     Love, say that you won’t let go

“The Damaged” was inspired by the story of a woman from a third world country who had broken an arm, but not had access to medical help to reset it. As a result, it had grown deformed and become unusable. “I don’t want to be the one who’s broken, I don’t want be the one who falls apart, I don’t want to be damaged,” she sings. Through it all, Macintosh’s vocals are clear and expressive

The downside of the original and enjoyable production is that it is too even. Where the vocal loops, harp, plucked violins and swirling strings have a memorable riff, the songs catch fire and blaze. But where these elements fade into the background, the album develops a sameness that detracts from the more striking songs.

You may enjoy this collection more if you download the stronger half and relish that. Ones to start with include “Laughter Comes Upon Us,” the title track, “Damaged” and “Galaxy Former”.

Derek Walker