Recording information: Milton Studio, St. Paul, MN; The Art House, Bellevue, TN.
If Fireflies and Songs is any indication, Sara Groves is once and for all throwing caution to the wind. The acclaimed songstress was never one to operate behind filters, but as far back as her breakout single, "The Word," her musings on faith and family always entertained a certain pop sensibility, an everywoman spirit that, for reasons still unexplained, failed to catch the attention of the Christian mainstream. Their loss: she remains one of CCM's singer/songwriters par excellence, a tunesmith every bit as eloquent as colleagues Nichole Nordeman and Cindy Morgan. Groves' sharp penmanship is still her strongest suit, but Fireflies and Songs is different in that it finds her letting down her guard and abandoning, at least for now, any and all hopes of attaining household status. Instead, she was behooved to do a songwriter's album -- to shift her bird's-eye view off the Christian experience and other issues toward a more vulnerable place: her own strengths and struggles as a mother, wife, and daughter of God. What she unearths in the process is a wealth of lessons learned along the way -- the messiness of marriage, personal inadequacies, and Christ's redemptive power at the end of the road. This level of intimacy calls for a more subdued approach, which veteran producer Charlie Peacock provides by way of simple folk arrangements, understated touches, and a slightly shoegaze ambience. These temperate choices, stately though they may be, render Fireflies and Songs Groves' least listener-friendly endeavor; in a way, she is only coming full circle here, arriving at a very similar place as Conversations, her under-the-radar but revelatory debut. Groves' big break may still be farther than ever before, but it's doubtful she cares: Fireflies and Songs is proof she is in this for the long haul. ~ Andree Farias