[18 March 2013]
Much can be said about Sandra McCracken: She is the wife of singer-songwriter Derrick Webb, controversial within Christian circles for his uniquely liberal, yet spiritual views; she herself is a devout Christian; and Noisetrade, the record label and non-traditional (read: free) music platform co-founded by her husband is behind the release of her latest album, Desire Like Dynamite. Here’s what should be said: Sandra McCracken is a powerful songstress – an agile singer and devoted composer whose atmospheric and unflinchingly steady approach to songwriting is unmatched within this religious pocket of the music industry.
After 14 years, seven full-length albums and various collaborative efforts (both with her husband and others), Desire Like Dynamite finds McCracken at her most confident, exuding a feeling of complete creative realization that could very well put her over the proverbial top of the Contemporary Christian milieu. In its slow-burning and carefully formed construct, Desire Like Dynamite is an album that can be split into two parts: those led by the gentle hammers of McCracken’s piano, and those by the strum of her acoustic guitar. “Redbird” and “Gridlock” belong to the former and although they unfold at an often glacial pace, they bare adequate nuances and a demeanor just jaunty enough to keep both mid-tempo tracks interesting.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those of the acoustic guitar variety prove to be the most fleshed out and realized, and arguably the poppiest work of McCracken’s career. Tracks like “Hourglass” and “Sweet Amelia” soar with long and bright instrumental breaks, taking a much quicker pace than the aforementioned, developing steadily and standing out amongst the lot.
Throughout both halves, it’s the oblique vocal phrasing and sideways melodies that find the artist’s most noteworthy and distinguished performances. As with McCracken’s past releases, her voice is not incredibly unique nor attention grabbing – it’s a tempered speech that sparsely enters into territories vigorous, moody or strained – but it’s the execution of that voice that has brought, and will continue to bring acclaim. Much of the success found in “Go”, hands-down the album’s finest track, can be attributed to the deliberate pacing in McCracken’s voice.
To its detriment though, the album is often long-winded and spends the majority of its time circling its thesis before actually arriving at it. Frequently sleepy, the album could be more concise and to the point. At 51 minutes, nearly 80% of its tracks eclipse the four and a half minute mark. With McCracken’s discography as proof, and the skeletal potential of these songs, Desire Like Dynamite possessed the potential to be more than just a creative touchstone, but her best work yet. Alas, it fell short.
Defects and all, Desire Like Dynamite is an album that has been toiled over; it’s obvious that much effort has been put into it and it benefits from this labor extensively. It is polished and pristine, free of any vocal or instrumental imperfections, and the songs themselves are developed to their fullest extent. It is a truly rare album in its patience and gracefulness; a truly invested and contemplative listen for those willing to take it up.