The Phantom Tollbooth
this much I understand 
Artist: Carolyn Arends 
Label: Reunion Records 
Length: 12 tracks/52.37 minutes 


Becoming a parent is an experience that tends to change a person's outlook on life. So it would seem with Carolyn Arends. Her "difficult" third album, sees her attempting to forge a path between the acoustic promise of her debut and its unfortunately over-produced follow-up, but the album is more notable for the simple reflections on life from the perspective of one concerned with how her child will see the world.
The album shows a combination of the acoustic mode common to the singer-songwriters from whose ranks Arends has drawn her influences and the more modern production touches that were dominant on this album's predecessor. The balance between the two seems fairly well made, even if there isn't a huge amount to make the music here stand out. So it is that we get a restrained touch of mandolin on "Even the Mandolin," followed by a programmed introduction to "In Between". The latter suggests a Sam Phillips influence, but the album doesn't have the avant-garde spirit of Ms. Phillips's work.

Arends seems to be in a comfortable place at the moment. Her songs show concern that her son shouldn't suffer at the hands of the society he's growing up in, but despite their importance, the concerns are fairly simple ones. Thankfully Arends is generally able to avoid the cliche that often comes with an album so comfortable, particularly within the Christian marketplace that she occupies.

A comfortable album which doesn't push many boundaries, this album doesn't bring Carolyn Arends's promise quite to the fore. But it's another sign that there are some artists who can find worthwhile observations within comfortable places.
James Stewart (8/09/1999)