Reviewed by Michael Ehret
What A Heart Is Beating For by Chris Rice
"...the reality of living with the Spirit in our everyday lives is the focus of this collection."
First, let me say that I love Chris Rice. He has a true appeal to him; in the same way a big ol’ friendly, hairy, gregarious dog is irresistible. You want to pet the dog, let him lick your face, and jump up on you with his big paws.
Chris Rice, at least on his records, is like that. Goofy, ebullient, clearly a fun person to be with, and someone we all would like to have as a best friend. Remember “Cartoons?” But he’s also an artist who could touch your deepest pain or fear with the empathy of a best friend (“Live By Faith”).
However, since 2003’s, Run The Earth, Watch The Sky, Rice has appeared to stumble a bit. Granted, there have been some significant changes in his life, including not a little pressure from having three albums perform so well right out of the gate (1997’s Deep Enough To Dream, 1998’s Past The Edges, and 2000’s Smell The Color 9).
Run The Earth… contained some highpoints, chief among them “Untitled Hymn,” but it failed to connect as well with some listeners. Amusing from 2005 saw a small, yet significant, expansion of Rice’ vision with “When Did You Fall,” his tale of a bemused man who suddenly realizes a woman has fallen in love with him, taking a run up the secular charts to #15 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary Chart, but, again, felt incomplete.
Rice’ latest effort, What A Heart Is Beating For, follows in the tracks of its predecessor, reaching out for the wider audience beyond the CCM (contemporary Christian music) genre while not turning its back on the core. This time Rice seems to connect the dots in a more complete way.
Opening tune “So Much For My Sad Song” is classic Rice: Thoughtful, amusing lyrics set to a tender James Taylor-esque acoustic mid-tempo tune. His knack for creating word pictures that place the listener right there with him is firmly in place.
“The first thought through my sleepy head / When I fell out of my bed / Is ‘I hope the sky is grey, I’m gonna write a sad song today’ / So I make up my mind, slip on my shoes / I’m gonna pick up a paper and read the news / Cause I’m sure to find quite enough blues to write my sad song.”
But things don’t quite work out, because Rice sees his wife and “I think of you and the only blues to hit my eyes are those beautiful blues in the clear blue sky / So much for my sad song.”
In the title song, Rice takes a broad look at what love is and acknowledges that love is not all blue skies and euphoria. Love can also be painful and frightening and a “lullaby and a hurricane, too.” Learning to take the chance for the greater payoff is what a heart is beating for and “the only way to gain is to give it all away.”
So far, the lyrics have made no explicit Christian claims, but the topics are so infused with Rice’ Christian worldview that the connections can be made by the heart that is open to the Spirit:
“Oh, why be afraid, no reason to hide / Take a chance, put it all on the line / Draw in a deep breath and throw open the door / ‘Cause that’s what a heart is beating for.”
It’s not hard to make the spiritual connection here, especially with the music ramping up to an uplifting climax at just the right point.
Elsewhere on the disc, Rice does offer more overt spiritual themes, but the reality of living with the Spirit in our everyday lives is the focus of this collection.
Other highlights: “Pardon My Dust,” an interesting take on the signs (Pardon our dust. Expanding to serve you better!) you often see when a business is growing; “You Don’t Have To Yell,” a plea for reason and sanity in public discourse; and “Sneakin’ Into Heaven,” the story of a man who borrows a halo so he can visit heaven.
Weaknesses: Too many ballad-y songs with tempos that drag the energy of the rest of the record down; the presence of the song “Lemonade” for the second album in a row (I don’t know why – it’s not that great); and “Here Comes Those Eyes” the other half of “When Did You Fall” set to a sort of shuffle beat.
Michael Ehret is a music maven who has written about music, secular and Christian, as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, several Internet sites, and even CCM magazine. He is also the editor of the newsletter Afictionado, the e-zine of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is testing the waters with his first novel, Beyond December, while working on his second, Skipping July.