Album Review :
Francesca Battistelli - If We're Honest (Deluxe Edition)

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Artist: Francesca Battistelli
Title: If We’re Honest (Deluxe Edition)
Label: Fervent Records
Release Date: 4/22/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Write Your Story
  2. When The Crazy Kicks In
  3. He Knows My Name
  4. Unusual
  5. Choose to Love
  6. Run to Jesus
  7. Find Rest
  8. If We’re Honest
  9. Giants Fall
  10. Hands of God (feat. Matt Hammitt)
  11. We Are The Kingdom
  12. Holy Spirit
  13. Keeping Score
  14. I Am Home
  15. Tonight (feat. All Sons and Daughters)

One of my favourite female Christian artists ever, Francesca Battistelli has been able to give listeners around the world heartfelt melodies to sing along to, from the encouraging ‘Beautiful, Beautiful’, and the poignant ‘Free to be Me’, to the ever encouraging ‘This is the Stuff’, a song that reminds us all that sometimes God uses the most trivial stuff to show His glory and His plan for each of us, even when we do not realise it at first. Garnering success and praise throughout her 7 year career on Fervent Records; Francesca’s presence in the CCM industry is certainly felt. One of today’s most popular CCM artists, along with Chris Tomlin, TobyMac, Casting Crowns, MercyMe and Tenth Avenue North; the New York native with Italian background is now back in 2014 with her first full length studio album in 3 years (her previous album, Hundred More Years, was released in 2011). Francesca’s presence within a male-dominated music industry is certainly a role model for many listeners and fans around the world, and alongside artists like Meredith Andrews, Natalie Grant, Kari Jobe and Britt Nicole, Francesca has given us great music with a power-pop and worshipful influence. From the first single ‘Write Your Story’ (full of acoustics, powerful vocal moments and a pop atmosphere certain to make the song popular on radio); to heartfelt duet ‘Hands of God’ with Matt Hammitt, and the worship cover ‘Holy Spirit’; If We’re Honest is arguably one of the most vulnerable, emotional and best produced albums of the year so far (just below Jason Gray’s Love Will Have The Final Word and MercyMe’s Welcome to the New). While I didn’t give this album 5/5, it did come close- I would recommend this album to anyone who loves contemporary CCM/pop, or similar artists like Britt Nicole, Natalie Grant, Meredith Andrews or Kerrie Roberts.

‘…I want to be a vessel for God, I want to be an open book, and I want my life to be available to Him for any turn that He wants it to take, and write any story that He wants to write. This is a really joyful song that to me is about being a blank slate and letting your life be open to whatever it is that God wants to do. For so many of us, it is easy to feel like we need to come up with a great plan for how God is going to use our gifts…’ ‘Write Your Story’, the first song and first single on the album, is possibly one of my favourite Francesca Battistelli songs of late. With looping percussion and a great electronic keyboard hook to bring in listeners to a song that’s certain to be a fan favourite amongst Franny fans in live concerts, ‘Write Your Story’ encourages God to write our stories- in essence, for us to surrender everything to God and allow Him to work through us and in us as we live our everyday lives in His presence. Catchy and encouraging, riveting and radio-friendly, Francesca gives a yearning plea to the Lord in the chorus, as we are met with vulnerability in the words of how ‘…I’m an empty page, I’m an open book, write Your story on my heart, come on and make Your mark, author of my hope, maker of the stars, let me be Your work of art, won’t You write Your story on my heart…’ As I look at these lyrics, I am convicted (and hopefully other listeners are too), of whether I myself can declare in my own life these words, and whether I can surrender every part of my life over to God without reservation. This vulnerability causes us to rethink our lives and whether we are in fact holding things back from God when we don’t even know it. Even if we give everything to God or hold things back, God will still move in us, and will nevertheless write His story in us, creating something magnificent from both the poignant and beautiful crevices as well as the dingy and dark moments that seemingly define the lives we lead. ‘Write Your Story’ is a call for us to be open, and is a central theme all through If We’re Honest, Francesca’s strongest album to date!

Originally appearing on WOW Worship Lime, ‘Holy Spirit’, though only available on the deluxe edition of If We’re Honest, is still nevertheless a good track, and even if someone doesn’t want to (or can’t afford to) purchase the deluxe edition, they can still hear Francesca’s rendition of a Bryan and Katie Torwalt classic on this year’s WOW Worship compilation. Sticking quite close to the original, the song builds up in a crescendo as the drums, guitars and Francesca’s soaring voice declare out ‘…holy spirit You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere…’ One of my favourite songs from 2013, Francesca’s version of ‘Holy Spirit’ certainly bolsters the bonus tracks, making the appeal of purchasing the deluxe edition much greater than if the song wasn’t released on the 15 track album. With power in Francesca’s voice, and a gang vocal to emphasise the bridge of how we ought to ‘…become more aware of Your presence, let us experience the glory of Your goodness…’; I have been able to enjoy this rendition a lot, maybe even slightly more than the original recording done a few years ago.

Both ‘He Knows My Name’ and ‘When The Crazy Kicks In’, just like ‘Holy Spirit’, are promotional singles by Francesca ahead of her release date of April 22nd, and each of these songs give us a great snapshot of how the album is set up, the themes and the musical styles, not just employed in these three tracks, but throughout the album as a whole. With electronic percussion and a neat guitar riff to start off ‘When the Crazy Kicks In’, Francesca utilises powerful rock-style instrumentation to pave the way for a 3 minute message of being able to find the moments of communion with God, even in the everyday busyness our lives endure. Upbeat and energetic, Francesca calls on the Lord to ‘…come meet me in this moment, before it all gets going, and these plates start to spin, the crazy kicks in…’ Sometimes all we can have is 5 minutes a day with the Lord because of all the tasks and the happenings that circulate our lives, and while we can have so little time with God throughout the day, He can nevertheless use that moment or two to speak volumes to us. Flowing into ‘He Knows My Name’, it is when we realise that God knows everyone on the planet, and chooses to commune with us personally, that we can have the freedom in asking for whatever is on our hearts, knowing that though He wants to commune with everyone, He still makes time for us to give heartfelt moments of vulnerability towards Him. With percussion, light electric guitars, and keyboards again taking the forefront as well in this song, Francesca gives us an encouragement, that we don’t need all the fame and fortune that the world offers, and just being known and loved by our Father ought to be enough. The poignancy of chorus, and how ‘…I don’t need my name in lights, I’m famous in my Father’s eyes, make no mistake, He knows my name, I’m not living for applause, I’m already so adored, it’s all His stage, He knows my name…’, is one of my favourite parts of the song, with the song overall being a great highlight for myself and I’m sure many Franny supporters. Well done Francesca for these aforementioned three tracks (alongside ‘Write Your Story’), some of my favourite songs, not only on If We’re Honest, but throughout Francesca’s music career as well!

The beauty of having the album standing at 15 songs is that there’s no shortage of music that can appeal to listeners that enjoy its many different styles. With Francesca presenting to us strong ballads, pop acoustic melodies, worship songs and other acoustic guitar driven moments of tranquillity and contemplation; fans of CCM, pop, acoustic pop and worship will love Francesca and all the music she brings to the fore on If We’re Honest. ‘Unusual’ invites us all into pure pop goodness with ‘la la la’ intros, guitar riffs and bouncy keyboard riffs as this 2 and a half minute speedster encourages us to be unusual (in terms of our faith in God) in a whole full of sameness. Francesca encourages us all with the affirming words of how we’re all ‘…brave, unique and set apart, masterpiece, a work of art, living out what you believe, being who you’re made to be, I love to see the way that you are, unusual…’; making the song one of the most enjoyable and relevant songs on the album, especially towards the younger generation of teenagers/young adults. ‘We Are the Kingdom’ an equally acoustic-pop driven melody, continues along a similar theme to ‘Unusual’, encouraging us to show the kingdom of God wherever we go. The notion of ‘we are the kingdom’ is a sobering reminder that we as Christians carry the presence of God wherever we go and are, and therefore, what we do, say, act and behave, however minute, small, big or grand, has an impact in the lives of the people we meet. With an acoustic guitar riff that underpins the song with reverbing vocals and an ethereal atmosphere, this acoustic pop melody full of enthusiasm, life and comfort is just the right thing for us to hear as we are encouraged to celebrate God and what He longs for us to be as we represent His Kingdom on earth, shining for Him like a city on a hill.

‘Choose to Love’, ‘Run to Jesus’ and ‘Find Rest’ all anchor the middle of the album and each offer comforting words, from choosing to be vulnerable and love the people around us (‘Choose to Love’), and running to Jesus, the source of our help rather than trying to solve our issues ignorantly (‘Run to Jesus’), to a song about finding rest and perspective in the arms of Jesus, because ‘…He’s never lost, He never runs out, He never lives in the shadows of doubt, no fear catches Him by surprise…’ (‘Find Rest’). While at first glance the musical backdrops of these three songs couldn’t be any different (‘Choose to Love’ is an electronic keyboard based ballad, ‘Run to Jesus’ is an upbeat piano, hand claps, and electronic drum driven enthusiastic melody, and ‘Find Rest’ is as sombre and mellows as they come, with an eerily powerful keyboard being at the forefront of the song); each of these three songs show us the strength of Francesca, her songwriting and the style of music she delves into, and in my opinion, complement each other quite nicely. Well done Francesca for such pop goodness- with If We’re Honest and its melodies continuing to assert Francesca as one of CCM’s most poignant, emotive and vulnerable female artists since artists like Amy Grant, Nichole Nordeman and Natalie Grant!

Francesca’s lyrical and musical gems keep coming, with songs like ‘Keeping Score’, a bouncy piano driven melody with a serious theme of the restoration of marriage, and just like how God doesn’t keep score when He invites us into His love and His presence, we ought to promote a similar type of healing, restoration and hope within our own relationships, whether they are with our spouses or not. While only 3 minutes (in fact, most of the songs on the album are between 3-4 minutes, the standard length for pop/CCM melodies), ‘Keeping Score’ leaves no time to be a poppy song about nothing, and uses the three minutes it’s been given to showcase one of the most heartfelt and comforting songs on the album, even though it is on the deluxe version. ‘If We’re Honest’, the title track, is a piano only track with some reverb and Franny’s powerful vocals, and if this song doesn’t tug at your heart at being one of the most honest songs she has ever written, I don’t know what will. As soon as I hear her sing out the poignant words of how ‘…truth is harder than a lie, the dark seems safer than the light, and everyone has a heart that loves to hide…’, I can tell that the song is certain to be one that pierces through all our facades and speak to our brokenness on the inside as we understand the theme that even if it is hard to open up, being honest will come with the reward of hope, mercy and encouragement. ‘Giants Fall’, a synth and drum heavy song that’s a swayer (as in, if you listen to the song, you can’t help but sway, dance or move about), brings to us a theme of us putting our trust in God, even if there are giants, be it physical, psychological or emotional, in our way; and with a powerful anthemic chorus like the one presented, of how we ought not to ‘…be afraid of giants in your way, with God you know that anything’s possible, so step into the fight, He’s right there by your side, the stones inside your hand might be small but watch the giants fall…’, it’s no wonder why ‘Giants Fall’ is a my favourite of mine (and I hope many others as they hear the album next week).

Overall: With Francesca also giving us 2 duets in ‘Hands of God’ (with Sanctus Real frontman Matt Hammitt, about thankfulness in a spousal sense as Francesca gives gratitude to her husband for showing her the hands of God throughout the craziness of life) and ‘Tonight’ (with folk/worship duo All Sons and Daughters, presenting to us a folk-acoustic song about us longing for God to guide us through our lives, a sort-of lullaby song); Francesca’s popularity over the last few years has been phenomenal, and with the release of her new album If We’re Honest, the deluxe edition of Hundred More Years last year, as well as her debut Christmas album in 2012, fans of her music won’t be disappointed with an album full of new songs that’s certain to skyrocket her popularity even more, to new heights. From her inception into the Christian market at age 22 in early 2008, this New Yorker with an Italian heritage and a mother of two has given us a great album to listen to, and certain to impact whomever listens, even if Francesca’s music isn’t necessarily their first choice of music style. With each track standing out musically and lyrically, Francesca’s fresh and relevant musical perspective is translated throughout each song, all the while paying homage to the musical roots of her past- a piano-pop musical undertone with a prominence on vocal delivery, providing us with a well-rounded album to listen to as the weeks and months of 2014 continue to roll on. Francesca’s infectious personality and fun musical arrangements added to the serious and relatable lyrical content is enough for her music to be as popular as it currently is. A great maturity and lyrical development since her debut will certainly continue in the future, and with her new album being my favourite, this sets the bar high for her fourth album (whenever that may come), and already has me eagerly waiting with anticipation and excitement. Well done Francesca for If We’re Honest, my 3rd favourite album of 2014 so far (after Welcome to the New by MercyMe and Love Will Have the Final Word by Jason Gray), and a standout album of April 2014!

RIYL: Britt Nicole, Meredith Andrews, Nichole Nordeman, Natalie Grant

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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