Sara Groves “Floodplain” Album Review

sara groves

Prime Cuts:  Floodplain, Enough, My Dream

Sara Groves gave us some unforgettable radio hits like "Less Like Scars" and "All Right Here."  Fair enough; they were catchy and they make us want to sing along.  But Groves has never really been tailored made for mass consumption.  Rather, right from her early days with tracks such as "Paintings Pictures of Egypt" and "The Word,"she has had a ruminative side.  Over the years as she becomes more established, building up a larger and larger fan base, Groves has moved musically farther away from pampering to radio's favour.  And her lyrics have become more and more poetic and acerbic ready to trim off any frills or tropes that might border on cliché.  She manages to reach an epitome of her poetic best with the largely introspective and ballad heavy "Invisible Empires" in 2011.  Though not as emotionally dense as "Invisible Empires," "Floodplain" continues Groves streak for songs that stymied with a cathartic weight with lots of intimate moments on full display.  This means "Floodplain" is deeply personal, emotionally deep, and spiritually penetrating.

A former school teacher, Sara Groves broke out into the music industry in 1998 with her debut "Past the Wishing."  But it's her 2001's "Conversations" album that really places Groves on the map.  Later, Groves went on to be nominated for three Dove Awards including New Artist of the Year in 2002 and Special Event Album of the Year 2003 by the Gospel Music Association. She was named one of the best Christian music artists of 2005 and the album, "Add to the Beauty," was named Album of the Year for 2005 by CCM Magazine.  "Floodplain" is her first full-length studio album since 2011's "Invisible Empires."  Groves produced the anticipated new effort in collaboration with Steve Brewster, Matt Pierson, Scott Dente, Daniel Phelps and Brown Bannister.

Inspired by a run along the Mississippi River while battling depression, Groves is reminded of how our hearts resemble the floodplain by the river, where our self-esteem could be easily eroded by the high tide of discouragement. This gave birth to the title track "Floodplain," a gorgeous piano piece that unveils our vulnerability and our need for grace in life's floods.  This image of the river meanders its way across the track "Expedition" which is a folky-based upbeat pop number that recalls Groves' earlier endeavors.  Not one to dwell on trite issues and recycled platitudes, "This Cup" aims right at our soul.  Often we try to take the road of least resistance; but on "This Cup" Groves argues that it's in the struggles and the incumbencies of life that we ironically discover God's joy and contentment.  This is the type of song that ought to be played at weddings, graduations and every occasion we feel lethargic.

With its infectious melody aligned with a folk-country waltzy lilt, "Second Guess Girl" is easily the album's most catchy piece. The soaring cinematic strings of "Enough" have a mesmerizing effect as we are immediately drawn into the song which speaks of how faith is the only luggage we truly need in our journey with God.  The sober piano piece "My Dream" unveils Groves' mettle as a sublime lyricist as she paints with so much vividness: "As I fall asleep/I have a waking dream/You are standing in the driveway/As I come up the street/I can tell by your movement." However, one of the album's setbacks is that some of the songs are so clever that it takes repeated listens to figure out their meanings.  For some of the songs, the images and meanings do not immediately cohere; this may cause some listeners to wonder what some of the songs mean.  And to review the record without a lyric sheet compounds the vexation of this problem.

No, "Floodplain" is not an easy album.  It's not one of those made-for-radio album combustible for immediate gratification.  Rather, the album's beauty and depth are to be acquired through careful listenings and reflection.  At the end of the day,  "Floodplain" is not for the hurried and the superficial; it's a meaty album prepared for those who wish to invest the time to get to know these songs as friends.  



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