The Phantom Tollbooth
Small Graces
Artist: Bob Bennett 
Label: Covenant Artists
Time: 10/ 39:40

Flashback--Summer 1982. I was a rising senior in college, home for the summer, looking for a church and friends who believed. I found the church. I found the friends, and I found something else. 

I found out about Bob Bennett. He was the rave of the young adults in my new church. Everyone was abuzz about his latest album, Matters of the Heart. Still considered by most to be his best record, Matters of the Heart won me over with its excellent production and Bennett's profound lyrics. Somewhere along the way, my copy of the album got lost, and I haven't been able to locate many vinyl copies of it, let alone CDs, but the record still gets played in my mind.

That timelessness is kind of a Bob Bennett trademark. He writes intimate songs that speak to real people, and the production is always tasteful, never trendy or earth shattering, but clean, simple, soothing, and begging for repeated listenings.

Small Graces is no exception. In fact, the production reminds me of Matters of the Heart or maybe more precisely his debut First Things First. It's a fairly quiet acoustic album, but it avoids the suffocating production that usually afflicts albums like this. While many folks will like Small Graces because it's mellow and doesn't assault the senses, it won't put to sleep those folks who are bored by most MOR/Inspirational music. This is largely due to Bob's unique crystal-clear tenor voice (and by the Kelly Willard backup vocals who's worked with him so much in the past).

On Small Graces, Bennett proves that he's still a profound songwriter. It can be easy for an honest record to be predominately dark, but that's not the case with Small Graces. Rather, it's a collection of prayers, observations, and encouragements of life and love. 

The title cut kicks the album off with a look at the little things in life that we take for granted--things that really are small miracles of everyday life. That's followed with an encouragement to live and love, "The Only Risk Worth Taking."

The risk of romantic love is the theme of a couple of Small Graces's tunes. Bennett acknowledges the risk is real and mourns losing the gamble at times, but encourages us that all is not lost. Divine love is another recurring theme, one that works its way even through the romantic songs. It's back to those small graces, and the ones that aren't so small:

This is the kind of stark raving honesty that keeps me coming back to Bob Bennett. I love this stuff. It moves me. And his theology isn't sloppy. There's more here than words that rhyme and speak in Christianese. Here's a man who's studied God, lived life, and learned through it all. Quietly he shares what he's found out.

Those of us who discovered and loved Bennett's music years ago will welcome this fresh new release. Those who haven't had the experience will find a solid album to enhance contemplative moments and may just be prodded to look for those rare finds of his early career. Small Graces is just that--a small grace.

By Ed Rock

Rapidly gaining fans in the mainstream folk arena, this latest album from Bob Bennett breaks no new barriers but conveys a strong set of songs in well-produced style. Bennett's rich tenor voice is well-matched by his intricate picking style and true-to-life lyrics--these ones seem to suggest that there is a new love in Bennett's life. The singer/songwriter field is currently full to overflowing, but this is an artist who's been around long enough to have earned his place, and Small Graces is a good demonstration of his well-developed style.

By James Stewart