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Exhaling Fresh Air
Posted April 27, 2015
By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer

Plumb reclaimed her role as one of the most dynamic and powerful presences in CCM with her previous album, the stirring and chart-topping Need You Now. With arguably one of the most successful songs of her career in the title track and a prime spot on the annual Winter Jam Tour Spectacular, Plumb was put in the perfect position to have an eager audience for her follow-up. Electing to go in a more worshipful direction, listeners have been eagerly awaiting to see what such an album from Plumb might sound like.

What Works:
This isn't your typical Plumb record. Plumb is known for a handful of signature sounds, and I'd say about 90 percent of those sounds are either completely absent or extremely dialed down on this release. She isn't a stranger to softer pop tunes, but they've never been the bulk of her music. They certainly haven't ever been the entire composition of an album. Yet, this is what we have here with Exhale.

Taking away the expectations of what a Plumb album is supposed to sound like, the album actually stands tall as one of the best adult contemporary albums of the year. Most albums targeted at this audience wish they could be this good. 

Lead single "Lord, I'm Ready Now" is a powerful and honest portrayal of surrender, and the stirring musical backing makes the track an immediate standout. "Champion" (and "We Stand For You" on the Deluxe Edition) both are fitting Easter songs (a little late, but hey, you have a head start for next year) that examine both Christ's sacrifice on Calvary and His subsequent triumph over death. The music in each song is anthemic and relentlessly engaging. 

"Resurrection" and "Great Is Our God" also keep the momentum going on this playlist with worshipful energy. These songs are musically rich, lyrically vertical, and powerful musical experiences--yet they avoid the common trappings of most corporate worship tunes and thus stand as a shining example of what worship music can and should be on a more regular basis. 

"Smoke" and "Restored" are among the examples of the softer and more reflective offerings balancing the radio powerhouses. They do their job with glimmering poise and round the album out with a shimmering completeness. Some of the "oohs" and "aahs" even echo some The Civil Wars-type moments. It takes great finesse to pull off a mixture of both rousing and calming tunes, but Plumb is clearly up to the task.

What Doesn't:
This isn't your typical Plumb album. One thing that always made Plumb stand out was her varied signature sounds, deep emotional songwriting, and unique approach to create music. The result was always something that hit hard and looked like nothing anybody else in the business was doing. This time around, simply doing what everyone else is doing better replaces that innovation, and it's hard to not be at least a little disappointed at the more generic approach. And really, even this kind of sound has been better executed by Plumb before, most notably in "Need You Now" from the last album. Nothing here carries that kind of gravitas. Ultimately, the biggest shadow cast over this album is that of previous Plumb albums. 

Closing Thoughts: 
Without question, this is one of the strongest releases so far this year. Confined to the A/C genre, there's unlikely to be much that will even come close to it. The powerful vocals on this album are a mighty case for Tiffany Arbuckle Lee to be named Female Artist of the Year at the next WE LOVE CHRISTIAN MUSIC AWARDS

By all measures, this album is a rewarding and roaring success, combining passionate vocals, lyrics, melodies, and music into a tight and accessible package. The biggest problem is that Plumb is so talented that she has set such a high standard with her unique sound, and an album that plays it so much safer than the edgy and emotionally-tinged dance/pop/rock of previous releases somehow feels a little bit like a letdown. But with expectations set aside, this album shines at what it set out to do and is a rewarding addition to the body of landmark Christian A/C releases. It may not be Plumb's pinnacle, but it's certainly among the best for this year thus far.

Song to Download Now: 
"Lord, I'm Ready Now" (Get it on iTunes here.)

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