The Darker Side of Jaci Velasquez
By Jennifer E. Jones
Remember the first time you listened to “Un Lugar Celestal”? Do you still smile when you hear the soft, gentle voice of a Latina beauty sing “On My Knees”? Remember Jaci Velasquez? Well, forget what you know. Jaci’s back with a new sound and a new album. It’s called Beauty Has Grace but frankly this grace isn’t all that beautiful.
This album is supposed to have strong British leanings as Jaci recorded in London with producer Martin Terefe who’s worked with The Flaming Lips and Coldplay. If influences of the latter are present in this record, I must have missed a note or two. This sounds nothing like British rock. Beauty Has Grace is a Top 40 mess of bland rock’n’roll and far beneath the talents of this once nearly flawless artist.
Previous Velasquez albums were driven by her sultry voice perfectly paired with classic ballads like “God So Loved” and "Adore". However, Jaci seems lost on Beauty Has Grace and as a result, the songs go nowhere. They want to be hard rock but her vocals simply don’t match. Her voice is too soft for the heavy riffs. Thus, the guitars overshadow her -- especially on “Something Beautiful”. It’s one of the few songs on the album that is strong musically, but it’s at the sacrifice of Jaci’s vocal presence.
Jaci lent her writing talents to Beauty from Grace but that sadly doesn’t save it. In “Prayer to Love”, she co-writes: “Capture me, don’t set me free / Surround me with Your love / Let me see through your eyes / Touch me with Your grace”. It’s not bad but it’s not terribly novel either. The lyrics on this album just don't pop. With songwriting being the strong suit of the top bands today (i.e., Casting Crowns, Switchfoot), an artist can't afford to throw away words like this.
“When You Hold Me” is by far the biggest disappointment. Jaci’s signature voice is reduced to a grainy, strained whining that’s hard to listen to without wincing. It’s an attempt to sound like other rock divas like Plumb or Tricia Brock of Superchick. However, Jaci is trying to do things with her voice that it isn’t made to do. It’s a shame because “When You Hold Me” contains the best line of the whole album: “Put Your arms around me Lord / When I’m not worth waiting for”.
“Supernatural” is the album’s saving grace. It’s a slow rock groove with a modern swing, in which she sings, “Supernatural thing / I’d do anything / To see Your face”. With a tapestry of violins draping the background and a hint of jazz, this song offers an oasis in the desert of Beauty Has Grace where Jaci finally sounds like Jaci again.
I recognize that artists are people, and people change. They go through different phases of life, and the art they produce usually reflects those changes. So I don’t fault Jaci for wanting to make a rock album. I fault her for not making a good rock album. Between a star producer and her own reputation, this album should have been a no-brainer. However, the excursion into Brit rock leaves the listener confused and ultimately disappointed.
If you’re looking for a worthy follow-up to her last album, Unspoken, you may want to let this album release pass you by. There’s plenty from her collection to delight in. In addition to many successful contemporary CDs, Jaci had a wonderful Christmas album back in 2001, and her Spanish-language records have garnered her three Dove awards in addition to the four she already has.
It’s obvious that Jaci is trying to find herself on this album, and sadly, she’s taking us along for the ride. We appreciate it, but some journeys should be taken alone.
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