The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist:  Various
Label:  Word
Length: 14 tracks/72.30 minutes

Behind striking artwork lies a collection of tracks by a range of leading artists from the Christian market. It is an unusually collaborative project where many artists sing songs written by others —Michelle Tumes wrote two but sings one she didn't write, and Amy Grant joins Deliriou5? on one of their older songs.

Many similar collections fail because of heavy-handed production, but this one side-steps that trap. Much of the material is both somewhat ethereal and organic in nature. Sixpence None the Richer show their versatility by adding unexpected keyboard sounds to "Breathe," a collaboration between Michelle Tumes and Leigh Nash. Burlap to Cashmere's contribution is unusually spacious for the band. The vocals of Yes's lead-vocalist Jon Anderson are unmistakable on "The Only Thing I Need," his curious collaboration with 4 Him that shows a strong, early 80s pop influence. Deliriou5? return to their Cutting Edge era with "Find Me In The River." This track had been billed as featuring the Littlehampton boys as Amy Grant's backing band, but Grant actually plays the supportive role.

The album's real strength is not in the host of CCM "names," however, but the gentle orchestral offerings from the Irish Film Orchestra. The orchestra's contributions are never banal soundtrack fare, but a collection of clear background tracks which recall the movement of streams and rivers.

The album's producers intend this album to promote hope and reconciliation to a broad range of people from various walks of life. Whether this will happen will depend largely on the individual. None of the tracks are particularly striking, but neither does the album as whole descend into a predictable rut like many of its peers. Streams is worth a listen for those who like their arrangements expansive and soothing.

James Stewart  (7/12/99)

Track listing:

"Job" - Cindy Morgan
"Don't Give Up" - Maire Brennan and Michael McDonald
"Breath" - Sixpence None The Richer
"Sanctuary" - Chris Rodriguez
"Hold On" - Michelle Tumes
"The Only Thing I Need" - 4 Him with Jon Anderson
"Find Me In The River" - Deliriou5? with Amy Grant
"I Will Rest In You" - Jaci Velasquez
"From Above" - Burlap To Cashmere
"Forever On and On" - Point of Grace
Orchestal Suite - Irish Film Orchestra
   "For Cova"
   "Delaney McDowell"
   "Streams (for John Cole)"