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Adam Cunningham
Artist: Adam Cunningham
Label: Track Star Recordworks (May 1, 2007)
 
Like many a practicing pop/rocker, Adam Cunningham’s CV features the requisite tour of duty as leader of his church’s worship team. But, while stints as head man for the praise squads at the First Baptist Church of Mocksville, North Carolina, and Calvary Baptist in nearby Winston-Salem undoubtedly helped the Iowa native hone his musical chops, it wasn’t until he moved to Tennessee that the proverbial ball truly got rolling. Indeed, since relocating to Nashville in August of 2004, Cunningham has pulled down the head musician slot at the Loop, a citywide, non-denominational ministry for young adults, led worship on the Dove Award-winning His Renown album and garnered a second Dove nomination for his work on The Word Alive children’s praise project. Not bad for a guy who has yet to celebrate thirtieth birthday.
 
Part of Cunningham’s appeal is his powerful, slightly husky, everyman-sounding voice (think Bart Millard of MercyMe for the nearest familiar point of comparison). It is perhaps fitting, then, that the opening three tracks on his eponymous Trackstar Recordworks debut are each pop/modern worship hybrids on the order of MercyMe, Starfield and others of their ilk. Pleasant as they are, though, the songs have a sort of on-the-fly feel that sounds as if Cunningham was caught noodling around in the studio close to, but not quite at the point of, sinking his teeth into a solid hook or melody line. Slightly catchier are the Beatlesque, slightly psychedelic “Don’t Let Go,” the likewise jaunty “Come Back” and the humorous, countrified “What Love Can Do.” It should be noted, though, that the light-hearted lyrics and youth-camp-ready character of these cuts may well render them a bit too capricious for some tastes.
 
It isn’t until the seventh song that Cunningham truly hits his stride. The beautiful, acoustic guitar-driven “Friend of Mine” finds him finally latching onto a concrete melody and delivering a melancholy tale of childhood memories and opportunity lost that is, at once, joyful and heartrending. Nearly as impressive are “Learning to Live” and “Glory Down,” the former an engaging crossover-friendly love song (the only clue it’s to God is the capital Y in “Your”), the latter a rousing call to worship. And both are graced with a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes heartland rock aesthetic – think Geoff Moore, Bob Seger, et al. – that fits perfectly with their straightforward lyrical content and heartfelt delivery.
 
Sincere as he is, tracks like “One Angel” (With a smile and a little charm/ She keeps me from harm) and “Don’t Let Go” (Don’t give in/ Don’t give up/ Until the end) highlight Cunningham’s tendency to lapse into cliché. And despite his taking stabs at everything from modern rock to country to jazz, too many of the songs on the album sound too much alike to be remembered distinctly once it stops playing. That said, Cunningham deserves a measure of credit for taking on all of the songwriting duties on the release himself. And, truth be told, his formidable singing voice is warm and emotive enough to cover the lion’s share of his melodic and lyrical shortcomings. To be sure, the Trackstar debut compares most favorably to work by Cunningham’s contemporaries and any number of its cuts stand poised to crack the CHR Top 40 – all of which makes the enjoyable self-titled project a most admirable starting point for the emerging artist.
 
Bert Gangl  (07.11.07)

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