Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
Beautiful History by Plumb
"...a great choice for new listeners as much as it is a reminder to longtime fans why we love Plumb so much."
When Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (aka Plumb) released her last album Blink, some fans wondered if the ballad heavy record with rich themes of motherhood marked a change for the artist. Because it did indeed mark a change in Plumb’s personal life. She’d just birthed her second son Oliver and had been entertaining the idea of putting her music on the back burner for the sake of her children. Thankfully, she’s set those notions aside. Says Plumb, “...now I realize that my children’s mom is Plumb. She’s not just Tiffany, although that’s part of her.”
These are calming words to hear from an artist releasing a Greatest Hits collection. Often a “collection” release either signifies a well run dry or an attempt to keep a dying career afloat. But rest assured, this is not another The Best of Plumb, which was produced to fulfill a contractual obligation with Essential Records back in 2000 and contained no new songs.
A Beautiful History does of course include hits like “Cut”, “I Can’t Do This”, “In My Arms”, and “Real”. But what sets this one apart from your standard hits fare is the inclusion of complete remakes. “Stranded”, “Here With Me” and “God-Shaped Hole” were all originally released on her sophomore effort candycoatedwaterdrops (1999).
These versions still bring the flavor of the originals, but there’s an added layer of richness which transforms their old nineties vibe into hit worthy songs of today. It’s like hearing a song on an album and then hearing an artist play it live. The original core is all there, but when a musician plays live they might add a few extra bars during the chorus, or the singer might belt the bridge in a different key. In the case of “Stranded” (Plumb’s most requested song to date) the arrangement is fuller and less acoustic.
1999's “Here with Me” clearly utilized electronic drums and percussion, but the 2010 version definitely feels like it’s being performed in concert with driving guitars and real drums. And whereas the original electronically alters Plumb’s voice, now her vocals have matured into a stronger and slightly deeper tone in no need of manipulation. You can hear the intense passion as Tiffany sings, like she’s finally performing the song the way she’s always wanted to perform it.
Several years ago you could sense Plumb’s struggle with whether to identify herself as a Christian artist. She’s clearly a devoted Christian, but sometimes her lyrics would leave the listener wondering if their meaning was meant to be spiritual or not. In these remakes, subtle additions of a line or phrase erase all questions. The I can’t do anything without You / You give me strength to do anything / I can’t be everything I try to / You saved me from the everything I couldn’t be is sung with such passion on “Here with Me” and reinforced with Plumb’s added line “You save me”, it’s clear where her beliefs lie.
The re-make of “Damaged” (originally appearing on Chaotic Resolve) is another glimpse into Plumb’s heart. Dealing with the topic of sexual abuse and sung from the perspective of a girl who feels she can’t move forward and be loved again, the redemption extended version was, as Plumb says, created when she and her band experienced God’s anointing on stage one night. “It literally wrote itself. With a sea of eyes full of tears in the audience, it became clear that it wasn’t just that those who feel this way [about sexual abuse] could be loved . . . they needed to know the they already were.”
The inclusion of “God Shaped Hole” also shows the value Plumb places on her message. In 1998 she didn’t want to record the song. But now she says, “In the last decade it has come to mean something very different to me . . . and today, much like my pink wig from my debut photo shoot . . . I’m very glad I did it.” Originally beginning with acoustic guitars and maintaining that feel throughout, the new version begins softly with the plucking of an electric guitar, but quickly crescendoes at the inclusion of powerful drums, piano and additional guitars.
Listening to these Plumb remakes makes the old versions sound tired in comparison. However, there are two new songs on the record as well. “Hang On” and “Beautiful History” are more ballads than rock anthems and could possibly be called the weaker cuts of the album, but it’s great to hear new material from a much-loved artist, and these two songs are close to Tiffany’s heart. She calls “Hang On” her own personal anthem for life with its message of hope and tenacity.
Even if you own the entire Plumb library and aren’t interested in remakes, Beautiful History is worth adding to your collection just to get your hands on Disc 2. Casual listeners might not realize that many of Plumb’s recent songs have been remixed into dance club hits. “In My Arms” and “Hang On” both hit number one on the Billboard Dance Charts. Before now they were only available as digital releases. Eight remixes are included on this disc of Beautiful History, including two each by Bimbo Jones, Bronleewe & Bose, and Digital Dog as well as singles remixed by Dave Aude and jRyann. “Hang On” the remix is even better than the original.
With 20 songs in all, Beautiful History is a great choice for new listeners as much as it is a reminder to longtime fans why we love Plumb so much.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.