Stephanie Smith | Not Afraid
Christian music is almost a decade removed from an era where it seemed afraid to let women rock. From Jennifer Knapp (Where've you gone?) to Fireflight's Dawn Richardson and the BarlowGirls and Superchicks in between, the Christian market has gotten used to hearing a woman's voice in front of a hail of guitars, to the point that it doesn't make headlines.
So why is Stephanie Smith a headline?
First is the backstory is that she was spotted by Gotee Records impresario Toby McKeehan -- you may know him as TobyMac -- who was actually turned down by Smith when he first offered her a development deal. In the past, the man has spotted acts such as Knapp, Family Force 5 and Grits, so if he's interested, you want to give it a listen. That would lead to second, which is that when he finally signed Smith, he put a lot of support behind her. At least, that's what her debut, Not Afraid, sounds like.
Jamie Moore's production is a collection of high energy anthems seemingly perfectly tailored to launch Smith into the summer festival season, where she'll be a big presence at events such June's Ichthus Festival in Wilmore. Smith sounds ready for it with a voice warm enough for the Miley Cyrus crowd but strong enough to draw in the fist-pumpers waiting for Skillet.
If there's a weakness here, it's in material. Some of the opening tracks such as Beauty and Superstar feel like they've been done before, both in title and execution. The album starts showing artistic maturity in grittier rockers such Over It and the reflective ballad, What if I Made a Mistake? With a winning first effort and clear label support, Smith should enjoy success this go-round and time to grow.
American Idols: We want to ruminate on Chris Sligh and Phil Stacey's albums one more week, so we'll have those reviews next week.
Also out today: With Arrows With Poise by new MTV stars The Myriad.
Dottie Rambo: Southern Gospel has never been my thing. But I certainly knew about Dottie Rambo (photo, right) and her music. The Queen of Gospel Music died Saturday en route to a concert in Texas and former Herald-Leader religion writer Frank Lockwood has an informative tribute to her at Bible Belt Blogger. And we have a guest book at Kentucky.com if you'd like to share your condolences. Walter Tunis also has an eloquent remembrance at his blog, the Musical Box.
Air1 & Ichthus: California-based Air1, heard locally at WVRB-95.3 FM, is giving away a trip for four to the Ichthus Festival, complete with backstage passes. The contest is kind of cute: You start to qualify by being the correct number caller when they ask you to call in. Then, you get to play That's Greek to Me -- Greek, Ichthus, get it -- a contest in which you are asked to correctly identify a non-English word or phrase. If you do, you qualify for a grand prize drawing of a trip for four, including airfare, to the Ichthus Festival, June 12-14 in Wilmore.
Narnia alert: If you are getting geared up for the opening of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on Friday, you could run down to the Tates Creek Branch of the Lexington Public Library at 7 tonight for a little preliminary event. Asbury College English professor Devin Brown will be discussing and signing copies of his latest book, Inside Prince Caspian: A Guide to Exploring the Return to Narnia, the follow up to his successful examination of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which came out before the last Narnia film. Brown is an internationally recognized expert on C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series.
Then go home and . . . watch Switchfoot perform This is Home, the band's contribution to the Caspian soundtrack, on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno at 11:35 p.m.
Speaking of faith-based film: You may remember Facing the Giants, a movie about a fledgling football coach who doesn't find success until he finds God, that went on to surprising success in the fall of 2006. It was surprising because the movie was essentially made as a fund-raiser by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. Well, the church's moviemaking ministry -- how many churches have one of those? -- is at it again with Fireproof, the story of a fireman looking to save his faltering marriage, which is due this fall. Fireproof already shows some signs of Sherwood's success with Giants and its predecessor, Flywheel. The trailer, below, shows advanced special effects and camera work, while there's still a down-homeyness about some of the acting. The film also has a Christian pop tie-in with Warren Barfield's Love is Not A Fight, off of his new disc, Worth Fighting For, which is out next week.