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An Absolute Gem
Posted January 22, 2012
By SarahFine_NRT, Staff Reviewer

The ‘90s were a fantastic time to be a female vocalist in Christian music. The powerhouse careers of greats such as Amy Grant and Sandi Patty paved the way for the revolution that took place at the end of the 20th century--a time in which female artists such as Rebecca St James, Nichole Nordeman, Susan Ashton and a plethora of others dominated the airwaves with their thought-provoking messages and ear-grabbing tunes.

Included in that endless list was a 14-year-old girl by the name of Jaci Velasquez, who had a big voice and an even bigger vision for ministry. Having grown up singing in church her whole life, Jaci’s biggest break came with her 1996 release, Heavenly Place, which spawned hits such as “On My Knees”, “Un Lugar Celestial (A Heavenly Place)” and “If This World.” The album went on to be certified Platinum and launched what was to become one of CCM’s most influential careers.

It’s almost impossible to list Jaci’s lengthy list of accomplishments into one paragraph. Dozens of English and Spanish recordings, millions of albums sold, countless awards, thousands of sold out shows, not to mention her “hobbies” such as acting and hosting a radio show. It’s safe to say that if there is one word that can describe Jaci Velasquez’s life in the last 16 years, it’s passion.

In 2008, after the release of her Love Out Loud project, Jaci took a quiet sabbatical from the music industry to focus on raising her growing family with husband and Salvador lead vocalist, Nic Gonzales. Having begun a much simpler lifestyle than the fast-paced conditions of the music world, Jaci began to gain a whole new lease on life--as both a wife, a mother of two little boys, and a child of God. And it’s that same lease on life that has inspired some of Jaci’s most intimate and real songwriting to date.

Poised to be one of CCM’s biggest comebacks of the year, Jaci’s newest album, Diamond, is coming from a four-year hiatus full of changes, challenges, victories and ultimately, finding freedom.

“When you look at a diamond, sometimes the flaws and the imperfections of the diamond are actually what make it sparkle the most,” she explains about the idea behind the album. “Diamond is that story for me. How He can find something that the world might toss away, and He can say ‘You’re Mine, you’re beautiful, I have plans for you.’”

The much-anticipated project starts off with the title track, “Diamond,” and sets the stage for a musical journey of both personal discovery and open encouragement. “Give Them Jesus” is the first single, coming as an upbeat reminder that it’s sometimes the smallest things in life that shine the brightest light for Jesus.

The Sound Of Your Name” is a sweeping song of worship, talking about the awesome yet gentle power found in the voice of the Lord. and transitions nicely into the jazz club-like “Stay.The intimate “Fall For You” is written from the viewpoint of God towards one of His children who thinks they’ve fallen too far from His grace, only to remind them that nothing they’ve ever done can outweigh His love for them.

Jaci‘s love for her Latin heritage has always made a welcomed appearance on her records, this one being no exception. “Con El Viento A Mi Favor” (translated “With the Wind In My Favor”) is a beautiful moment of surrender that even non-Spanish speakers will enjoy listening to due the sheer anointing felt in the music. The passion found in her Spanish language albums has always gone unmatched and it’s clear to see why in this song. Hopefully we will be greeted by another full-length Spanish album soon.

The album beings to pick up the speed from this point forward with “Tell Me Again,” reflecting on how God’s love overshadows our failures. “Girl” comes as one of the most blunt songs on the record, both lyrically and musically. The message of self-worth and purity directly aimed towards women who are being told to sell themselves to find love is matched unconventionally with a big band style melody that almost sounds like it belongs in a musical. Quirky to say the least, but it fast becomes one of the standout tracks on the record.

The techno pop/rock infused “Trust In You” stands reminiscent of some of her earliest work with a few modern twists, while “Guilt” drives its theme of personal forgiveness deep into the heart of the listener against a haunting guitar driven musical backdrop. The album comes to a close on a simple note with the piano-fronted “Good Morning Sunshine.” It symbolizes the diamond theme of this record beautifully and gives it a storybook ending.

Closing Thoughts:
When an artist takes any lengthy amount of time away from the music scene, their return is always met with either an uproar of praise or a page full of problems. I am happy to report however, that not only has Jaci solidified her return to the Christian music industry, but has done so an extremely high note. Vocally, Jaci sounds better than ever, and musically, her lyrical and melodious evolution shines brightly, making this easily her best project to date. Stylistically, there is something for everyone. It tends to lean more on the mellow side, but when it does pick up the pace, it doesn’t miss a beat.

Diamond is aptly titled. It is an absolute gem, one of 2012’s first “must own” albums and by far one of the best projects Christian music has seen from a female vocalist in quite some time. Original yet familiar, longtime fans and new listeners are not going to want to miss this. Jaci Velasquez marks yet another long-awaited CCM return, and I speak for many when I say we hope she’s here to stay.

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