Maybe it's because Natalie Cromwell is a school teacher working with high school teenagers, she has mastered the art of keeping her audience on their toes. Just like her students at her school each of these ten cuts here display character and personality. Each track keeps you listening not knowing how each song will unfold. There is just not a dull on Cromwell's debut record "The Reason." Writing nine out of the ten cuts here (save for the hymn "The Love of God"), Cromwell is a clear-eyed observer with a knack of probing into the richness of Scripture and applying them to life situations in ways that are palatable, sharp and clear. "The Reason" also finds Cromwell working with producer Gordon Mote. Mote, for the unfamiliar, is the Stevie Wonder of Christian music. Though born blind in sight, Mote has had a 20/20 vision for performing, crafting and producing life changing music. This Alabama native's piano playing can be heard on numerous albums such as Brad Paisley's recent chart topper "Wheelhouse," Lionel Richie's comeback "Tuskegee," and CCM's Mark Shultz's "All Things Possible." As a songwriter, he is most noted for co-penning Andre Crouch's "Through It All" and as producer he has also recently helmed Paul Brandt's debut Gospel record "Just As I Am."
Mote has given "The Reason" an understated country backing where the fiddles, pedal steel and guitar tacitly draw attention to Cromwell's mellifluous vocals. And she does have a beautiful alto earmarked with the tenacity of Martina McBride and the creative edge of Natalie Maines. The album opens with a trio of snappy toe-tappers effervescence with brim and vitality. Yet, each of them bares its own thumb print. "Without a Fire" is fashioned as a prayer patterned after 1 Peter 1:7 where Cromwell pleas for God to awaken us to the truth that the fires of suffering are there to refine us. Such a prayer finds unison in a delightful bevy of backing vocals echoing Cromwell's petition. Never seeing her day job as a high school teacher as just a bread making machine, "The Difference" is timely reminder to her hormone-raging students that there is a difference between dating a Godly partner than one that doesn't give a hoot about God. Lead single "The Reason," a mid-tempo pacer which allows Cromwell to bask in amazement at why we are "masterpiece in your (God's) eyes."
Prepare for some spell binding moment as Grammy winner Bryan Sutton who picks up the mandolin for some dazzling displays on the bluegrassy "Your Love." The twang factor gets ratchet up with the Dan Dugmore steel guitar drenched country waltz "One Thing." This is a beautiful love song without any pleonastic pandering -- simple, succinct and sweet. Like the tinkling of refreshing drops of water, Gordon Mote's deft piano chops on the languid "I Will Give You Rest" beautifully enhances the promise of Jesus' rest from Matthew 11:28.
Not sure why but the album's cynosure is clustered at the tail end. Closing songs "Your Hands" and 'The Love of Gods" are both piano-cum-string ballads and they are both duets. The penultimate cut "Your Hands" (with echoes of Jewel's hit of yore 'Hands") is a duet with Ernie Haase and the Signature Sound's baritone Doug Anderson. While the hymn "The Love of God" finds Cromwell joining voices with Gaither Vocal Band's tenor Wes Hampton. Both are equally heartfelt and Cromwell's use of her falsetto on "Your Hands" is more than gorgeous. Besides the strange sequencing of tracks and perhaps a tad too few ballads, "The Reason" is a wonderful introductory record for Cromwell. Poised with a firm grasp of the pen for writing strong ear and heart tugging songs and with a lovely voice to boot, there is no reason why Cromwell's disc should not receive wide circulation and acclaim.