Album Review :
JJ Heller - When I'm With You

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Artist: JJ Heller
Title: When I’m With You
Label: Stone Table Records
Release Date: 10/19/2010
Reviewer: Jeremiah

Tracklisting:

1. Tell It Again
2. When I’m With You
3. What Love Really Means
4. Kingdom Come
5. Boat Song
6. Control
7. Love Can Make You New
8. Olivianna
9. No Fight Left
10. Until You Came Along

I’ve been following JJ Heller’s music since her sophomore album “When Love Remains” from 2006. I was actually introduced to her music from my wife through a rare occurance. There have been only 3 times that my wife introduced me to a new music artist. The 1st would be Kelly Sweet, the 2nd Kari Jobe, and the 3rd JJ Heller. I immediately fell in love with her pop/folk sound creatively crafted around light percussion and mostly acoustic instruments. Fast forward 4 years later and we have her 5th studio album “When I’m With You”. In between her 2nd and 5th albums we have “The Pretty And The Plain” which is her 3rd and “Painted Red” which is her 4th. Painted Red came out in 2008 but it wasn’t until September 29, 2009 that would change JJ Heller’s independent solo career. Dianna Drexler auditioned for Fox’s Television Show “So You Think You Can Dance”? and she used the song “Your Hands” off of the album. Jon Hull who is senior director of programming for a CCM radio station in Houston Texas was deeply moved by the song and decided to play it as a one-time ministry piece. The station was flooded with phone calls about the song and they decided to add it to regular rotation a couple days later. It was the first time in 4 years that the radio station added a song from an independent artist into regular rotation. This followed suit for many other radio stations across the country. I was a little worried when all of this happened because JJ Heller’s music doesn’t fit the Contemporary Christian mold. I didn’t know if she was going to alter her sound to fit that mold or if she was going to keep putting out quality music. Needless to say she stayed an independent artist when she probably could have signed a major contract and my worries were eased. Then a stake struck me in the heart as I was listening to her latest album.

– “Tell It Again” is wonderful indie pop that could easily fit on a college radio station. It gives some warm fuzzies as she sings

So hold me
When you’re here I’ll never be lonely
You’re my favorite part of this story
So tell it again and again to me

– “When I’m With You” is a compelling acoustic driven number and JJ’s husband Dave adds a magnificent touch with his background vocals. JJ speaks of how wonderful it is being the mother of her baby.

When I hear you, and you’re crying
It resonates, Dear,
in a place I didn’t know was there
You make me believe in love

Beautiful baby,
you’re sweeter than strawberry pie
Just like the morning,
your smile bring the sunshine

After two wonderful songs that stake I was talking about struck me in the heart as the third song started to play. JJ Heller decided to re-record a song off of her second album called “Love Me” and re-titled it “What Love Really Means” for this album. The song “Love Me” is a classic song and there was no reason for her to re-record it. It was anyway and it came out bad. The main thing that was added that really tore up the song was the drums. It takes away the emotions that the original had because number 1, the beats were all off. And 2nd, the song wasn’t made for drums and the added drums took the emotions that were already in their proper place and threw them out the window. This was the first song off the album that was released to radio. I’m assuming that JJ wanted to pull one of her old songs that most people wouldn’t be familiar with but knew it would be a radio hit. Then re-record it, rename it, and then release it to radio as if it was a new song. I’ve read favorable reviews of the song but I didn’t see any mention of the original so they probably never even heard it. Unfortunately I have and I’m quite disappointed in the end product. I did go back and listen to it again and pretend I never heard the original. I concluded that it was still a decent song but one that is still very flawed.

– As I’m trying to pull that stake out and heal from my wound, “Kingdom Come” starts to play with acoustic guitar and piano that leads into an amazing worshipful number. I really love the organ the comes in the song about halfway through. JJ sings

Life is but a dream at best
Morning’s coming soon
Kingdom come will bring us rest
All will be made new

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
all will be made new

Next is “Boat Song” which is a love song from JJ to her husband Dave. This is a wonderful song especially for those that are married because they could relate to it best.

If you were a boat, my darling
A boat, my darling
I’d be the wind at your back
If you were afraid, my darling
Afraid, my darling
I’d be the courage you lack

Oh, do you know we belong together?
Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

– “Control” deals with cutting and how the relief is never enough. It ends with letting it all go and relying on the hope that is found in Jesus Christ. It has some deep well written lyrics

The cut is deep, but never deep enough for me
It doesn’t hurt enough to make me forget
One moment of relief is never long enough
to keep the voices in my head
from stealing my peace

There were scars before my scars
Love written on the hands that hung the stars
Hope living in the blood that was spilled for me

“Love Can Make You New” speaks of a kind of love that is unconditional. One that could be from God, your significant other, or any person that has purpose and meaning in your life. This song relates on those various levels so it can speak to people in many various ways.

Open your eyes now
It doesn’t matter how many times you fall
Leave the past behind
I am on your side through it all

Don’t run away
Don’t be afraid
Love can make you new today

– “Olivianna” is the type of mind blowing songwriting that I expect of JJ Heller. The song is about a baby that ended up with a rare condition while it was developing in the womb called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH). You can read about the story here. I think after reading the story and hearing the song any man would cry including myself. The melodies and the especially the lyrics really hit this one home. All the lyrics are below.

Hearts broke when your heart stopped beating
I don’t know if mine will ever stop bleeding
Eleven minutes to breathe you in
I felt the darkness
When I knew I couldn’t hold you again

Chorus
Olivianna, you’re in the arms of God
Just a moment there is better than here

Life is short, but it is wide
I know it’s true
You’ve touched more souls
than most people ever do

Chorus

You could not stay with us
We will come to you
You could not stay with us
You’re going home, Love where you belong
Oh my baby girl, I’ll see you soon

– “No Fight Left” and “Until You Came Along” round out this excellent album. Lyrically both songs seem to fit each other one after another. The first is the realization of the need for God and the latter is the want for God and his ways. They still hold their own of course but I feel this album could finish no better way then these two songs at the end.

Overall: JJ Heller has once again made an excellent full length album. If you take away the remake of “Love Me” then this album is perfect. If you like indie/pop/folk music with skillfully crafted songwriting that touches your emotions and grabs at your soul then this is a must buy album.



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