Without a doubt, singer/songwriter Nichole Nordeman is my favorite lyricist of the Christian genre. While her songs are very well-crafted musically, they shine especially bright in terms the thoughts and ideas she is able to express in writing. The major theme of her work is about reconciling rational thought and emotional wonder—of how not to lose the spiritual in the intellectual. She does touch on more tangible topics as well such as the struggles of self-image and the need for acceptance of differences. Whatever the message, however, Nichole is able to pen these ideas in a very informal yet poetic language with references and analogies which leave you thinking. Even the artist Prince apparently agreed having surprised everyone (including Nichole) by covering one of her very Christian songs!
To Know You: “It’s well past midnight and I’m awake with questions that won’t wait for daylight—separating fact from my imaginary fiction on this shelf of my conviction. I need to find a place where you and I come face to face…”
Wide eyed (1998)
This first album showcased Nichole’s amazingly introspective writing ability through soul searching songs with simple accompaniment. Her strong singing style fits especially well with her questioning, sometimes chastising lyrics. A very “stripped down” album in comparison to her later work but perhaps my favorite of her albums musically for that reason.
This Mystery (1999)
Nichole’s second album has a more produced sound with many more pop elements and a wider range of instrumentation. Her self-questioning, socially challenging, and deeply poetic lyrics still remain the focal point however. She softens her singing a bit on many of the songs, but her strong vocal ability still remains. This album started getting her more recognition (one song was even featured on the WB hit series “Charmed”) as well as a habit of including a cover song from a popular artist (in this case Stevie Wonder’s “As”).
Woven & Spun (2002)
Nichole returned in 2002 with yet another lyrically deep and musically creative album. She herself admits that this album focuses much less on the struggles of questioning life than simply thanking God for his goodness in it all, yet her self-awareness and social conscience still remain. Musically, the album follows very closely to her last record. She also includes another cover song (in this case of Peter Gabriels “In Your Eyes) which stands up very well.
Live at the Door (2003)
This live concert album is a great demonstration of Nichole’s awesome piano talent and how great her songs can sound with either this simple accompaniment or a fuller (jazz-tinged) band. My favorite song is the amazing rendition of “Time After Time”—I don’t see how this didn’t get released as a mainstream hit.
For me, Nichole’s 2005 album is more about the lyrics than the songs. Though its title song and first single has a catchy pop air, the album as a whole does not present particularly catchy melodies so much as lyrics which carry much emotion and vivid imagery in just a few words. A great example is the piano heavy “Crimson” which tells the entire story of mankind’s fall and redemption with nothing more than terse picture phrases. Her cover song here is Bob Dylan’s “You Gotta Serve Somebody”.
The Unmaking (2015)
After a long silence, Nichole released a short album with six songs that continues musically in the vein of her previous work (with a bit of a nod to updated styles in a duet with Plumb and the Bereilles-type piano on “Something Out of Me”). There’s also a lullaby-type song sure to pull on the heartstrings of parents. I really like the words of the song “Love You More” which underscores our need for repentance (and God’s endless giving of it) by blurring the lines of ourselves and famous biblical examples of failure and redemption: “[I] sold you for a little silver and a kiss; I killed a man to love his woman….I hung beside you while you took your final breath. You’ve been loving me since time began; you’re behind my every second chance…”
Every Mile Mattered (2017)
Nichole’s first full album in quite some time continues her matching of current singer-songwriter trends with some earnest ballads and girl-power piano anthems, all with subtle touches of modern production. It’s well done but we only get a brief moment of what I really want from her which is a return to her less controlled, raw and belting vocals from her first album. This briefly comes in play on the grandiose bridge of the song “Hush, Hush” which also has some nice uses from discordant strings. Her cover is of “Beautiful Day” which I applaud for being so totally different from the original though not quite so compelling. And sorry but I cannot stand artists bringing in their young children’s voices on songs. The album is totally ruined by a cringe-worthy duet with her daughter at the end.