Prime Cuts: Even Louder (Featuring Steven Malcolm and Mr. Talkbox), Amen (So Be It), Praise You in the Storm
Overall Grade: 3.5/5
After a five-year hiatus, Natalie Grant is back with her much anticipated new Curb Release "No Stranger." Vocally, Grant has not lost an iota of her powerhouse greatness. She is still one of the few CCM artists who can emote with both verve and vulnerability. Her ability to sustain and stretch her notes remains unparalleled. Production wise, "No Stranger" is impeccable; the strings, for instance, on the track "Face to Face" give this ballad a majestic lift befitting of the song's theme about meeting Jesus. Thematically, Grant has moved along with the currency of CCM in cutting songs that are more worshipful in focus. In fact, her song "Isn't He (This Jesus)" that she first recorded with the Belonging Co. has been already become a worship favorite across many churches.
However, there is a major weakness inherent in this record. None of her ballads here has that jaw-dropping and awestruck intensity as some of her former signature tunes such as "Held," "In Better Hands" and "Your Great Name." In the aforementioned track "Face to Face," for example, Grant sings with such great anticipation as the song builds and builds to what could have been an explosive track. But she is severely letdown by the melody which meanders and meanders without a definite course to be excited about.
The same can be said about the title cut "No Stranger." The premise of "No Stranger" ---which speaks of how Christ is no stranger to our storm-tossed lives --- is stirring, but the melody doesn't tally up in terms of memorability. "Isn't He (Jesus)" is a tad stronger; but the melodic shreds are not hefty enough to uphold the entire tapestry of the song. "My Weapon" is cliché at best; worship as a weapon is a recycled theme shared by far too many recent offerings (a la Michael W. Smith's "Surrounded" and Sinach's "Way Maker").
When Grant steps out of her comfort zone, she excels. Her duet with rapper Steven Malcolm on the hip-hop flavored "Even Louder" is definitely a plus. Not bad are her covers: Grant's take of Casting Crowns' "Praise You in the Storm" (co-written by Grant's hubby Bernie Harms) and Bob Koch's "Amen (So Be It)" are worthy mentions. The latter is particularly fetching. Combining elements of folk, Gospel and pop balladry, "Amen (So Be It)" gives us handles on how we can choose to trust Jesus in each event that happens in our lives.
Grant's #10 album may not have those stunning ballads that used to earmark her releases, but there are still some strong entries. Grant has never sounded better: her nuances, her precision, and her passionate executions are still omnipresent.