Although relatively new to the Allen County area, Jessica Alles-Smith is no stranger to inspirational music. Her first CD, Hope, was released in 2000 to wide praise in the Lansing/Ann Arbor Michigan area. Since relocating to this neck of the woods, Jessica has spent time in Monastic Chambers with some local musicians, fleshing out ten more of her original contemporary Catholic Christian songs which comprise her new album, The Call. With the steady hand of Jon Gillespie at the helm, Jessica's strong, clean voice shines through clearly on every track. The studio musicians on this project include such luminaries as Tim Beeler of Fawn Liebowitz on bass and Justin Gillespie of Black Jack Shellack on drums. Michael Patterson adds guitar and keyboards are provided by Jon Gillespie and Jessica Alles-Smith. A true family endeavor, the background vocals are courtesy of husband Justin and son Jacob showcases his deft skill at the cowbell.
True to the genre, all instrumentation is placed gently in the background while the lead vocals are front and center so as not to distract from the message. Stylistically and lyrically the songs on The Call are very similar to what one would hear on WLAB. Setting the tone and main message of the album is the opening title track, "The Call." Layered in thick reverb and backed by simple guitar chord strums, Alles-Smith sings "I will shed the light/ I will share the Hope/ I will spread the Peace / As God would have me." This quickly gives way to an upbeat, fun tempo as the entire band joins in. "Hold My Hand" is a song of comfort with simple piano and light instrumentation as Jessica sings encouraging lyrics written from the point of view of Jesus Christ. Jangly guitars and a Jamaican beat characterize "He Is With Us", a jaunty mid-tempo song that introduces Justin in the background vocals. "Love Song" is, well, a ballad, or in Contemporary Christian Music lingo a prayer song, with a pretty melody, light guitars and tasteful backing keyboard. While this song might be a good stretcher for communion, at seven minutes long it tends to wear a bit thin in an album setting. Slightly distorted guitars playing an actual riff introduce the rocking "Once Again", a song about God's faithfulness. "Choose Me" is a pro-life song with a nice melody and lyrics that contain images of hope, sung from the viewpoint of the unborn. Possibly the strongest track is the final one, "Come Follow Me", which incorporates backing male vocals, some great keys, a natty guitar riff, and the only guitar solo on the album. While many of the songs feel like a solo album with a backing band tracked separately, here the musicians lock into the groove and play more as a band, greatly enhancing the effect of the music.
With The Call, Jessica Alles-Smith has presented ten well-crafted inspirational songs of hope and God's love that easily equal what gets played on Christian radio. For more information on how to get this CD, you can contact Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, February 2002.