Highway Records (2012)

From his early days as a child vocal sensation on Star Search to placing second on American Idol Season 7, David Archuleta has been a pop singer we’ve watched with interest, but perhaps also a bit of disappointment. While his stellar vocals brim with promise, his four studio releases so far have simply fallen into the growing abyss of mediocre pop offerings of recent years. His newest release, Begin., may change that trend.

Ironically, this record comes across more as a temporary interlude, rather than a shift in direction. With Archuleta reportedly on a 2-year hiatus from music while he serves as a Mormon missionary, Begin. is actually billed as an inspirational album, his press releases calling it a musical portrayal of Archuleta’s connection to God. To that effect, the record primarily consists of cover songs from notable artists ranging from Keane to Cyndi Lauper to Simon & Garfunkel, plus one original tune “Broken,” and a hymn at the end. While making a cover album always presents a bit of risk, I have to say that Archuleta’s vocal performances on this record cause it to stand out more than anything I’ve heard from him in years. While known for his near-flawless technical deliveries, Archuleta often falls short on emotional connection; but by choosing a track list closer to his heart, he seems able to convey a deeper emotion and sense of meaning with these songs. It’s more reflective and less bubble-gum pop than his previous work, but it’s just plain better music than he’s come out with in awhile.

It’s difficult to judge an inspirational album like this, for the simple reason that it’s a deeper expression than just the music alone, and you don’t want to find yourself judging someone’s expression of faith. But if I can separate it out and just look at it from a musical standpoint alone, I should point out two mis-steps in particular. The Keane cover “Somewhere Only We Know” is fine, but the arrangement sounds too close to the original, making it seem a bit karaoke [spoken in a Simon Cowell-esque British accent]. Also, people in general should probably just give up trying to cover U2; Archuleta’s version of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” just muddles up a great rock song in a mess of pop nonsense [also spoken like Simon Cowell].

However, these mis-steps don’t overshadow the moments of brilliance on Begin. Archuleta shines on songs like “Angels,” “Everybody Hurts” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the closing hymn “Be Still My Soul” is tasteful and simply beautiful.

Overall, Begin. is not just a fitting album reflecting a certain season in David Archuleta’s life; even with its flaws, it also happens to be one of his best albums so far. This might be an interlude, but in my humble opinion, Archuleta should take his cue from this record, because if future records have anywhere near the emotional quality of this one, it could be a turning point in his career.

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