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REVIEW: Bebo Norman defies odds to become influential musician

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Bebo Norman is not your typical Christian artist. He’s a guy who might be more prone to talk rather than sing at his concerts.

Norman goes beyond the superficiality of the industry and is not afraid to go beyond the basics of Christianity — as so many modern Christian pop-artists have a reputation of doing.

In a music market where the success of an artist is often measured in the number of different names of God he or she can reference in a song, Bebo has dared to plunge into a world of unanswered questions and awareness of who and what God really is.

By all accounts, Norman hasn’t rooted himself as a popular figure in Christian music. His music doesn’t get much airplay, he’s only had three Top 20 radio singles, and there aren’t any Dove Awards in his trophy case.

What Norman does have, however, is incredible critical acclaim, a large fan following, and a great number of album sales. Amazon.com ranked his 2001 release of Big Blue Sky number one on their 10 Best Christian and Gospel CDs of 2001. Norman ranked seventh on Baptist Press’ 2001 Top 10 list. He was the top-selling new artist in Europe in 2000 and Big Blue Sky landed at number four on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart.

Even from Norman’s beginnings with his first independent project The Fabric of Verse, he managed to sell more than 45,000 copies, one of which landed into the hands of Caedmon’s Call. As a result, Caedmon’s Call extended Norman an invitation to join their next road trip.

He was the first artist to sign onto Watershed Records, started by Cliff Young, Caedmon’s founder and the son of Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston.

Norman’s latest release, Myself When I Am Real, was released on Essential Records.

After releasing a more pop-dominated Big Blue Sky as compared to the soft and folk-influenced debut of Ten Thousand Days, many of his fans wondered what path he would take on his latest project. Myself When I Am Real blends both styles into a creation that proves Norman’s talent as a musician.

“This project is a medium between my last two albums,” Bebo said in a press release. “Musically, Big Blue Sky stretched me in healthy ways that were outside my limits, but now I’ve sprung back and landed in a place where I feel like an adult as a songwriter. These new songs express the things I want to share more than ever. My goal with this album has been to portray myself as accurately as possible.”

There is nothing out of the ordinary that will surprise listeners, and, if they like his original work, they should be pleased. With the amount of experience Bebo has, I usually like to see an artist experiment with their style, but it is hard to ask much more of the stunning songwriter.

Norman’s infectious melodies and choruses have never been better, instantly catching my attention and holding it to the last note. Songs such as “Falling Down” and “Our Mystery” are prime examples of Norman’s increased songwriting abilities.

The technicality of Myself When I Am Real is yet another factor that makes the project a success. Ed Cash, the producer of all three Norman releases and his longtime friend, does a wonderful job of providing soft and underlying accompaniment, which included guitars, cello, and simple percussion, without overproducing anything.

Summing up the project, Norman said, “I feel like I’ve landed in a good place musically on this record, partly because I think I’ve grown up a little as a songwriter, and the production represents that. We left a good deal of space in the songs, which lends itself to my acoustic background, but I don’t think we sacrificed the fullness that production can and does bring to a record. To me it’s a perfect balance of where I’ve come from and where I am.”

My favorite song is “Where the Trees Stand Still,” a passionate piece in which Norman shares his thoughts of constantly being on tour and being forced to live with “five-minute relationships.” He wants to be able to settle down where the trees stand still instead of zooming by his windowpane in the craziness of his life.

“I’ve spent six years singing songs, living life in different places, and I’m realizing that the things that really fill me up are much more simple and consistent than I ever imagined,” Norman said. “All that I truly love in my life is waiting for me at home.”

The only downside I can possibly draw from this collection is lyrical. His words are well crafted and very thoughtful, but it seems that he has not been able to reach the standard he set for himself in his debut project. Being single, many of his songs centralize their themes around finding a wife designated to him by God instead of singing to God himself.

I realize that if this is the only thing I can find to complain about, Bebo Norman must be on the right track with his entire project. Fans and new listeners alike should embrace Myself When I Am Real as a breakthrough in Christian music.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: BEBO NORMAN.

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  • Tim Harms