Franny's Defining Work
Posted March 11, 2014
By SarahFine_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Music can can be an sentimental scrapbook of sorts, highlighting life changing moments that reflect the heart of the artist who sings them. Take Francesca Battistelli, for example. Now three albums deep into her career, each project displays a detailed snapshot of her ever-evolving existence, and although she's only been on the scene for about six years, there is far more to be said than one might think.
Her debut, My Paper Heart, introduced us to this fresh faced singer/songwriter, and completely changed the game for females in the Christian music industry. Written from the perspective of a dewy-eyed newcomer dreaming of love and passionately serving God in spite of personal insecurities, it presented us with the message that we're free to be flawed in a world of airbrushed perfection.
Coming just two years later, 2011's Hundred More Years demonstrated more progression. Dwelling on the universal themes of friendship and loyalty, it spoke truth through the eyes of a newlywed and mom-to-be discovering both the joy and sting of love's sacrifice, basking in the process of self-discovery along the way.
Perhaps the biggest developments however, are found on her latest effort, If We're Honest. Now a devoted wife, doting mother of two toddlers, recent Nashville transplant, and—oh yeah—traveling musician, what you'll find here isn't a package of sugary sweet words wrapped to Pinterest perfection. Each song chronicles both the highs and lows of a person working their way through the craziness of life, while ardently pursuing the God who created it.
"Write Your Story" is the perfect starting point for the album. It's no wonder it was released as the first single. Upbeat and prayerful while managing to avoid cliché, it's the most modern pop-sounding track Francesca has released to date. In can be seen as Christian music's response to Sara Bareillies' "Brave," with a much brighter message.
Echoing the thoughts of every toiled employee or exhausted parent on the planet who just wants a few minutes to catch their breath before the madness of the day begins, "When The Crazy Kicks In" is a whimsical invitation for God to invade our daily lives, lest we try it on our own and collapse under the strain: "Pushed and pulled by a thousand expectations and all the roles that I'm supposed to play / To hit the ground running's a temptation, but I have learned this lesson the hard way."
"He Knows My Name" is an uplifting anthem, reassuring listeners of the love adorned on them by their Heavenly Father, thematically falling along the same lines as some of her previous hits.
"Unusual" sonically radiates and provides a dose of old school Francesca charm. The earworm melody shares that the bold stances we take in our faith, the ones the world often sees as strange, are ultimately what set us apart to live a life that honors Jesus. It's the bubbliest tune you'll find here, and one of the most lyrically clever, with lines such as "you're the zebra in the pony show," and a subtle jab to some famous "shades of grey."
Soaked in rich, bluesy soulfulness, "Choose To Love" is about unbridling a heart afraid of love, choosing to live a life of faith rather than one of fear.
Both "Run To Jesus" and "Find Rest" find themselves entering into worship territory, which has never been absent from any of Basttistelli's releases, but never as forward as you'll find here. It's a welcomed inclusion. The latter of the two pulls its roots directly from Psalm 43:5, telling our downcast souls to find rest in the comfort of our Sustainer.
The title track "If We're Honest" boasts an instantly haunting melody, driven solely by eerie vocals and an accompanying piano. The song tackles just what one might think it would, and encourages us to lay down the lie of acting like we have it all together, when there is a perfect God willing to take us as dirty and broken as we are.
"Giants Fall" is the biggest gem on the project, inspired by a young girl named Mallory who started her own mission aid organization and has gone on to raise over $20,000 dollars for kids in Uganda. Her faith, despite being told she was too young to make an impact, caused her to make a difference, and now sparks the same hope for others looking to step out and leave their comfort zones: "So step into the fight, He's right there by your side / The stones inside your hand might be small, but you're gonna watch the giants fall."
The final two tracks become vertically oriented once more with "Hands Of God," featuring Sanctus Real frontman Matt Hammitt, and "We Are The Kingdom." The first recounts the honor of being able to go through life and serve God with a faithful companion by your side, while the other encourages the body of Christ to rise up and remember their authority as beloved sons and daughters of a King.
If you're opting for the standard edition, this is where your journey ends, but, for diehard fans, five extra songs await you on the deluxe edition of this album.
A cover of Brian and Katie Torwalt's "Holy Spirit" is a chilling and prolonged moment of intimate praise, while "Keeping Score" serves more musical flightiness.
"I Am Home" is an autobiographical nomadic love story that talks about Francesca's life on the road with Matt, serving a dual role as her husband and drummer. It's a storyteller's song through and through, and should have made the final cut on the standard edition, in my opinion.
Another should-have-been inclusion is the solemn "Tonight," with guest vocals by David and Leslie of All Sons & Daughters. It's a worshipful lullaby, and sounds like something the duo themselves would have recorded for a project. It a beautiful way to end the bonus selection of songs.
One of the reasons Francesca Battistelli's style of songwriting is so inviting, is because it means so many different things to so many different people. It's a boost for the lonely in need of some hope, an empowering anthem for the person desperate to change their circumstances, a sigh of relief from the overworked parent who realizes someone can relate. While there are a bevvy of gifted songwriters in our industry, few are able to use their voice in such a relateable way, but Franny seems to pull it off flawlessly every time.
If We're Honest is appropriately titled. What you'll find here is a series of transparent songs that range from uplifting encouragement, unpopular opinion, personal struggle, intimate worship, and just about everything in between. Granted, a few of this album's best tracks landed on the deluxe edition when they should have been included on the standard, but it's a flaw worth overlooking when all of the songs presented are so incredibly solid.
With enough soulful familiarity to satisfy, and the careful touch of some new sonic elements to keep things fresh, listeners have much reason to rejoice with the release of this album. It is undoubtedly Francesca's best yet, and one of the must-own highlights of the year.
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