Back to the Future with Hope
Posted September 06, 2017
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer
For many X-ennials--folks like me in that mini-generation sandwiched between the Gen Xers and the Millennials--our childhood featured many hours staring at the TV as the cast of The New Mickey Mouse Club sang, acted and danced their way into our hearts.
While names like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and others have made their marks in the music world (and beyond), Jennifer McGill--one of the longest-running cast members of that now-defunct show--has emerged with a message more than 20 years in the making, via her first full-length album, Unbreakable.
As her Mickey Mouse Club colleagues went on to make music, McGill went to college, and then saw a pending record deal disintegrate as label execs criticized her look and general package. And the sudden death of McGill's mother only added to an already heartbreaking state.
That rejection and loss were crushing, but McGill says God picked her up and reminded her of her priceless worth. Now, she wants to share that message, and does so with 11 tracks that hammer home themes of value and victory.
The project, produced in part by GRAMMY Award winning producer Jeff Savage--a guy who has produced albums or remixes for TobyMac, Rachael Lampa, Avalon, Jars of Clay and others--is a rare time capsule of 1990s-inspired power anthems and power ballads that tell the story of how McGill found her way out of the jail cell of comparison, rejection, and defeat.
There's plenty of modernity on this record, although even the most cutting-edge synth elements and dubstep-like bass crunching plays second fiddle to the atmospheric guitar wails, orchestra hits and overall song structure that gives more than a tip of the hat to the era during which McGill was on our televisions.
Her own vocals lean this way, too, as fans of admittedly very different singers from different genres and eras--Pat Benatar, Jennifer Nettles, Reba McEntire, Ann Wilson of Heart and Bonnie Tyler--will find shades of those artists in McGill's sounds. She has a powerhouse alto resonance that allows listeners to be shocked by some of the high notes she hits throughout the album.
Essentially, Unbreakable offers up two different looks: Power anthems and power ballads. The first group gives McGill ample runway to blast her message of "you have the victory" and "we win" with uptempo firepower, on the songs "Unbreakable", "Look in the Mirror", "Moment of Truth", "Fearless", "Firestarter", and "Battle Is On."
With the power ballads, we get a softer side of McGill, as these introspective, emotional songs communicate messages of healing, acceptance, and lessons learned. These vibes show up with "What Are You Waiting For", "What I Know Now", "Armor", "Hanging on for Dear Life" and "Abandoned." These songs carry the kind of heartfelt, cinematic gravitas that Celine Dion's songs had in their heyday, and it's easy to tell McGill means what she sings.
Album highlights include opening/title track "Unbreakable"--a punch-in-the-face, high octane number that declares how the undefeatable power of love makes us, well, unbreakable. The lovingly delivered ballad, "What I Know Now," plays out like a mother singing to her daughter, telling her lessons about inner strength and beauty. The battle anthem, "Firestarter," is perhaps the most modern and urban-tinged track on the project, and despite some fairly predictable rhymes, is a fun, raise-your-fist-in-the-air kind of tune that speaks to McGill's desire to spread her message like fire.
The deluxe version offers a number of worship songs, which aren't as out of place as that may seem. The five tracks are important to bring context and closure to this concept of overcoming and worth. Standout tracks in this section include McGill's ambling, soulful take on "Break Every Chain", her soaring rendition of Planetshakers' "Limitless," and her treatment of Darlene Zschech's underrated song, "Victor's Crown"--a song I didn't think could be more powerful, but McGill's vocals proved me wrong. Here in this closing, we get to know McGill the worship leader, and I'm glad for it.
The Bottom Line:
For her first real rodeo in the recording world, it's pretty exciting to see what McGill has come up with. An album that started out as a concept for a musical aimed at tween/teen girls has become a deeply personal and cinematic musical ode to the 1990s that presents a much-needed message. If you're looking for the next big thing musically, you might not find it here, as McGill and her team have crafted something all their own--a throwback vibe in modern clothes. It's a look at the past through today's lenses, much like the lyrical content of Unbreakable itself.
Songs to Download Now:
"What I Know Now" (Get it on iTunes here.)
"Victor's Crown" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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