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Myself When I Am Real
Artist: Bebo Norman
Label: Essential Records
Tracks/time: 12 Tracks/ 49:17
Bebo Norman's first two nationally-distributed albums established him as a rising star in contemporary Christian music, an artist with genuine talent. In fact, some industry experts foresaw Bebo becoming the next Michael W. Smith or, perhaps more accurately, Steven Curtis Chapman.
Unfortunately, Norman's third record, Myself When I am Real, finds him just where we left him. He's still poised to make his big move. He's still not working to his full potential. While not at all a poor album, Myself could have been much greater.
For one thing, an artist must take risks and expand their musical palette to include more diverse, richer tones and sounds if they hope to grow as a musician. For the most part, Bebo Norman and producer Ed Cash just don't do that on Myself . Aside from a few feeble attempts to breed the organic music of his past with his more recent forays into Top 40 pop/folk, this is the same Bebo Norman we've come to know over the years.
Even more disappointing is the fact that Bebo's sonic brew seems to simmer without ever coming to a boil. Perhaps it's the fact that the same formulaic song structures are used over and over again ad nauseam throughout the vast majority of the record. Or maybe it's the fact that a songwriter of Bebo's caliber, who is obviously capable of penning fantastic poems (just check out some of his older material), has stooped to writing such tired love song lyrics like "I just want to be your everything" ("Everything") and using such profoundly trite expressions as "Oh Great Light of the World...come make me whole."
Though, in the case of Myself When I Am Real, the glass is definitely half empty, Norman's well has not totally run dry. That last lyric cited comes from "Great Light of the World," a song that, despite being a bit cliche, is moving nonetheless, one of the most truly worshipful songs to come out of CCM Land in some time. Even more impressive is the hand-on-heart honesty of "Where the Trees Stand Still," a song that will surely resonate within the hearts of anyone who is often away from family for prolonged periods of time. These songs, with their focus squarely on Bebo's vulnerable, emotive voice and his sometimes-lovely poetry, prove why the man has amassed such a devoted, if not rabid fan base.
Lamentably, the remainder of the album is largely crowded with mediocre pop songs that tend to run together, partially due to the bland production. Many of the ideas expressed by Bebo when he is real undoubtedly sounded better on paper than they do on a CD, but, unfortunately, Essential Records has yet to market any of Bebo's papers, so fans will have to make do with the album.
Ultimately, Myself When I am Real tells us the same thing we already knew about Bebo Norman: he is one of CCM's most promising new talents, but he has yet to grow into the truly great artist that is hiding within him somewhere.
Josh Hurst 10/7/2002
Bebo Norman jumps back on the music scene with his third release, Myself When I am Real. While this album has selected riveting songs, overall the project lacks the potential that Norman has to rock the Christian music world. While the vocals, guitars, and musicianship is solid, the songwriting on the project is lacking. Norman could have summed up the entire album in a thematic sentence, which goes something like this: "Hi, my name is Bebo Norman and I miss home, I'm looking for true love, and have found that God is mysteriously cool."
The CD's best songs include, "Our Mystery," "Great Light of the World," and "Under the Sun." If this is Norman being real, he must be really boring and not very artistic. Which is not true, because he is a really nice guy and seems to be remotely interesting? CD's are most enjoyable when you can play them nonstop in the car. With Norman's latest release, your pointer finger is constantly being tempted to press the skip button.
It's not to say that all is lost. There are four solid songs on the project, and these can be used for a record company's ploy of a "Best of" release in four years.
John Wehrle 11/18/2002