I don’t know what happened to Michael W Smith but whatever happened, it makes me quite blue. He’s one of the very few Christian contemporary music artists that I follow and Place in This World will always have a special place in my heart for personal reasons. But over the years, it seems like his music has gotten bigger, so to speak, to the point that it drowns out his voice. I’m being very literal here – his voice sounds too muted and subdued on Healing Rain to the point that he is in danger of being drowned out. Maybe it’s because he’s moved to a label that doesn’t have the right studio equipment to modulate the volume of his voice against the backing track? Or perhaps his voice suffers a little from his acting debut and all that admirable efforts he put in giving back to the community?
Forget the muzak cover version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, the real gems here are the playful yet inspirational Hang On, the pseudo-ethnic flavored Human Spark, and the rocky delight that is Fly to the Moon. The title track are among a few rather similar-sounding easy-listening ballads that make pleasant ear candy without being memorable in any way. As earnest as he sounds on Healing Rain and All I Want in gently spreading the word of his Lord, I find myself preferring the groove of Hang On. The faster tracks that get moving, at least, don’t threaten to put me to sleep.
But really, what happened to Mr Smith? Healing Rain is an unimaginative and formulaic, even perfunctory, release. Just as All I Want is close but not quite a chicken soup song like Place in this World, Healing Rain is close but not quite what I’d hope from the dear man. I’m a cynical person and once upon a time, Michael W Smith’s music managed to break through my cynicism. It will be nice to experience that kind of feeling again.