Album Review :
Jessa Anderson - Whole

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Artist: Jessa Anderson
Title: Whole
Label: independent
Release Date: 4/8/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre


  1. Idols
  2. Stay
  3. Giving Your Heart Away
  4. Everything
  5. Can’t Be Saved
  6. Caught Me By Surprise
  7. Never The Same
  8. Breakdown
  9. Whole
  10. Story of Grace

Releasing her 2011 album Not Myself Anymore on BEC Recordings to popular reviews by customers and critics alike, Jessa’s soulful-pop/jazz style of music is unique and something different to the pop/rock on the radio at the moment. While Jessa is still the ‘new kid on the block’ in terms of music and popularity, even though she has been making music since 2005, her lyrical prowess to deliver melodies about God, life, love and relationships make her music a joy to listen to. Moving back to releasing independent music in the form of funding her next project Whole through kickstarter (Not Myself Anymore was also made independently, and just distributed through BEC Recordings with the addition of ‘Fireflies’), Jessa’s third album still shows us her much loved and appreciated musical style, despite this being Jessa’s first album in 3 years (in the music industry, artists are considered and assumed to make albums every 1.5-2 years, anything longer and fans think something is wrong with their personal lives). Unveiling 10 songs which speak to the human condition and paint to us moments of clarity and understanding as we delve through relationships, both earthly and heavenly, with the hope, encouragement and grace that is required of them; Jessa’s kickstarter funded album is a winner, from the first single ‘Idols’, an upbeat guitar driven melody that invites us to rid the idols in our lives til only He remains, to the heartfelt ‘Giving Your Heart Away’, an emotional plea for us to open up fully to the loved ones around us.

The first single from the album, ‘Idols’ starts off with a powerful drum beat as Jessa speaks about a topic that isn’t necessarily discussed in Christian music- the issue of idols in our lives, even when we believe that there are none. With light electric guitars that create a folk-pop sound, Jessa uses great imagery and emotively gives us reason to see inside our own lives as we discover if there are any idols that are taking our attention away from Christ and His Word. As this song reminds me of the passage in the Bible that speaks about where our treasure is, our heart will be there also (Matthew 6:21); ‘Idols’ is as personal as it is applicable for anyone who hears, as Jessa confronts us with heartfelt yet motivational lyrics, that ‘…as it turns out, this fickle heart in my chest, sometimes it beats for everything but what is best, but when I turn down this voice I hear in my head, I give you room to speak and offer life instead…’ We can say we are followers of Christ, yet how we spend our time and what we devote our thoughts and actions to can say otherwise. Everyone, even believing Christians, can be susceptible to this, and, as pastor Louie Giglio puts it in his book The Air I Breathe, whatever we’re spending our time and devotion on is what we worship- hence the name of Jessa’s song ‘Idols’. Whether or not we ourselves admit it, we have our little idols in our lives. Through Jessa’s passionate and ethereal voice, as well as a swinging folk-pop beat, we are met with a song that’s certain to be as equally confronting and comforting, knowing that we are not alone in our quest to keep our eyes firmly on Christ and never sway in different directions. While many artists may not have explored this topic in songs, I’m certain that ‘Idols’ will become a melody that captures the attention of those who hear (I know it has for me). Well done Jessa for such a poignant melody, and one to give us motivation and encouragement to fix our eyes on Jesus as we give Him our full attention above everyone/thing in this world that will hinder us from deepening our relationship with our Father, Saviour and Friend!

‘Everything’, though only 2 minutes 55 seconds, is easily one of my favourite songs on the album. With worship at the forefront of Jessa’s mind throughout this melody, we as listeners are invited to join alongside her, as we are reminded and encouraged to declare out the words of how ‘…this is grace, nothing that I could make but that You took my place, to conquer sin and shame, and to return our hearts to You for whom we’re made…’ With hand claps and a keyboard riff that runs through the song, ‘Everything’ is a rousing anthem (albeit a tad short than what I probably would’ve wanted it to be) that encourages us to devote everything that we are to Christ. With ‘Everything’ being a melody that ought to rouse up thankfulness and gratefulness (that God took our place and gave us everything we could hope or even ask for), Jessa shows us that goodness and quality can still be shown, even if the length of the melody is quite shorter than the rest. A tad over 3 minutes, piano is still at the forefront of ‘Never the Same’ (in fact, most of the songs on the album are presented with a piano-pop musical atmosphere), as Jessa discusses the theme of us being changed when Christ comes into our lives and alters it for the better. With a soul pop voice similar to that of Ginny Owens or Dara Maclean, Jessa’s music is certain to bring in listeners who love that style of music, akin to something from the 50s or 60s, the ones played in clubs and pubs with live jazz-like bands. Eerily refreshing and the song that is probably the most similar to ‘Fireflies’ in style and lyrical content, Jessa poetically delivers some of the most emotive and passionate words on Whole, presenting the truth in how ‘…more than a little bit, this passion overwhelms, my very soul within and I’ve got to let it out, I want to make You known with every breath in my lungs, until there’s nothing more, until the work is done…’ (‘Never the Same’).

Worship songs, or singing songs about the Christian walk, seem to be at the forefront of many Christian artists, and while these songs are great to hear, the focus of the music can sometimes alienate listeners who may not necessarily know Christ, or even believe in the grace and hope that is offered. Artists like needtobreathe, Skillet, and Switchfoot attempt to bridge the barrier with their melodies that seemingly inspire, motivate and encourage listeners who enjoy both styles of music, and now, Jessa Anderson offers up melodies like ‘Stay’, ‘Can’t Be Saved’, ‘Giving Your Heart Away’, ‘Caught Me By Surprise’ and ‘Breakdown’, all of which are relationship-style melodies, yet also songs which present to us circumstances about the human condition so that we can learn and be inspired by the words of comfort, hope and encouragement. With a stirring electric guitar introduction, ‘Stay’ invokes a sense of hurt, but at the same time encouragement, forgiveness and a slither of hope as Jessa presents to us a story of a couple who is struggling in their marriage. Broken families are somewhat and seemingly the norm nowadays even though it shouldn’t be, and ‘Stay’ and the story it speaks of is something I reckon listeners ought to hear. Amidst the guitar riffs and Jessa’s soothing vocals, the words remain, that ‘…if we could work it out, if we could pull it through, we’d see so much will change inside of me and you…’ Staying and fighting for someone, even when times are tough, is something that God encourages us all to do, and as this song suggests, as we delve deeper in fixing our relationships with each other, we can ‘…begin again, let the cracks and the flaws help you realize that something beautiful is waiting on the other side…’ While not necessarily the first choice of music if you want a worship melody, ‘Stay’ nevertheless gives us a glimpse of what earthly relationships are like.

Released as a demo a few years ago, ‘Giving Your Heart Away’ is a piano led melody that describes a failed relationship, and seemingly is the antithesis of what ‘Stay’ is advocating- while ‘Stay’ encourages us to stay in relationships even when we know they’re hard work, ‘Giving Your Heart Away’ is presented with the outlook that if you didn’t enter the relationship and give your heart away, then maybe you won’t be hurt in the first place. While it may seem strange to record as many relationship-based melodies on an album sold in Christian stores, we are met with an artist who’s not afraid to discuss about life in all its facets, which can be shown poetically and poignantly within these 5 relationship tracks. While ‘Giving Your Heart Away’ can present a bleakness when we hear it, we are able to rest in the fact that even if we ourselves feel like the persona in the melody, we can understand and know that our hope for the future, even in relationships, lies in Christ and His assistance and help on our behalf. With Jessa also presenting us with a myriad of themes, from the realisation that sometimes non-Christians can’t be saved in terms of Christians dating them and wanting to change them that way, in the acoustic pop upbeat track of ‘Can’t Be Saved’, and the recounting of Jessa’s own relationship and the light shed on how sometimes love at first sight might exist after all in the acoustic driven ‘Caught Me By Surprise’, to singing about forgiveness and a chance for the victim to forgive the person who hurt them in ‘Breakdown’; Jessa’s relationship-style melodies are nothing short of something to be in awe of. Despite not singing about Christ explicitly, it is still singing about what Christ values- healthy relationships with each other and overflowing from that- a healthy relationship with God in the process.

With the worshipful ‘Whole’ and ‘Story of Grace’ ending an album full of honesty, praise and hope, Jessa presents us with a moment of vulnerability where we realise that ‘…every single heart is waiting for a love, is looking for someone who will not let go, in the deepest part of everything we are, we want to be enough, want our worth to show…’ As we ourselves realise that we need to be open in presenting ourselves in a way that others know we are not as whole as we pretend to be, Jessa’s piano-soul album ender is one of the best I’ve heard in 2014 so far. Together with ‘Story of Grace’, the song which precedes it with light acoustics and a slower melody tune as we hear Jessa voice her own vulnerabilities and understand that it is the story of God’s grace that gives us the courage to stand tall and let ‘…the words come one by one, goodness and healing from my tongue, that I’d find Your glory even in my pain…’; both these two melodies that finish Whole remind us of the poignancy of the songs Jessa writes, propelling the album up to being my favourite Jessa Anderson album ever!

Overall: Jessa’s new album Whole incorporates worship, pop melodies, and songs about life, love and other relationships as these 10 songs show what it means to live a Christian life, on one hand praising God for what He has done, and the other, going through life with problems and issues, allowing God to mould and shape us to become more like Him. Combining soul, pop, acoustic and worship, Jessa has returned to her independent roots, with this album being funded by crowd-sourcing website Jessa Anderson has a great future in the music industry (both indie and CCM), and fans of artists like Ginny Owens or Nichole Nordeman should certainly purchase this album. Whole is a great new gem from an artist that’s more underrated that what she should be, and is perfect for times when you sit back during moments of quiet time with the Lord as you immerse yourself in biblical truths about who God is and how He leads us through our lives full of calamity and calmness. Well done Jessa for such a thought-provoking album!

RIYL: Ginny Owens, Dara Maclean, Francesca Battistelli, Nichole Nordeman

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3