Sara Groves [Invisible Empires] | Posted May 05, 2012 Staff Reviewer
Each of Sara Groves’ albums have received well-deserved acclaim for her premier songwriting ability. Ten years ago, Sara’s major label debut album Conversations led to her nomination for Best New Artist. She has followed up each album with her next “best” album with All Right Here and The Other Side of Something. With her three previous INO recordings (now Fair Trade Services), Add to the Beauty, Tell Me What You Know and Fireflies & Songs, Groves focused on a theme and wrote poetic commentary with songs about social justice and the impoverished. Invisible Empires is the landmark tenth album by Sara Groves. This is not Fireflies Part II according to Sara, and I agree. While not a departure from her signature piano-based style, there are several songs that are also filled with strings and guitars.
Each of her albums has always had at least one song that pulls my heart strings and brings out an emotional response. From “Maybe There’s A Loving God” to “I Saw What I Saw” and “It’s Me,” I always expect at least one of Sara’s songs to make me cry. On Invisible Empires there are several personal songs that melt my heart including “Obsolete,” “I’ll Wait,” “Precious Again” and “Finite.” There is nobody else in any genre of music including acclaimed GRAMMY Award winning singer-songwriters Adele and Sara Bareilles writing such piercing, relevant and moving songs. If you are looking for an entire album of songs like “Blessings” by Laura Story, look no further than Sara Groves. What’s especially cool about this album is how Sara invites listeners into her life by sharing what’s on her heart. She dwells on social issues, lays out spiritual truths and worships God all at the same time. “Miracle” beautifully sets the tone for this 5 star masterpiece with her signature piano-based introspective style. This can be gorgeous background music, but don’t miss out on what Sara has to say in each song. “Lay down your arms, give up the fight, quiet your hearts for a little while, things have been spoken, shouldn’t be said, rattles around in our hearts and our heads” are the opening lyrics to “Miracle.” Settle in and really allow yourself to experience these songs, especially the next song “Obsolete,” my new all-time favorite song by Sara Groves. It is the source of the album title as Sara proclaims about our technology-driven society: “And I don’t know where we are, are we passing through these wires, are we walking through the streets of invisible empires?” The song is based on Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Sara recently read: “The Internet makes everything not enough.” When she tenderly sings “are you and I an apparition flickering on the screen…tell me can you really see me?” I well up and the tears start streaming down my face, for the first of many times during this incredible album.
“I’ll Wait” is a Brit-rock tinged worship song, which Sara wrote as a reflection of the victory she has felt over a period of intense anxiety that has plagued her. She reads Eugene Peterson’s Psalms of Ascent and this song has that psalmist style declaring to God: “I’ll wait for You, now more than ever, I see it’s true now more than ever, I don’t want to do this by myself, I know I need Your help, so I’m waiting for You.” The song is such a vulnerable and sincere prayer. You can’t help but pray and sing along with Sara. “Open My Hands,” “Precious Again” and “Without Love” are all in that same style declaring personal responses to biblical truths in each song. Lead single “Eyes On The Prize” musically is more like “When The Saints” and is Sara’s tribute to the work of International Justice Mission with her adaptation of the hymn “The Gospel Plow” singing about Paul and Silas and asking listeners to “keep their eyes on the prize, hold on.” Closing track “Finite” was co-written with Jill Phillips and is Sara’s response to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman.” As a mother of three young children, Sara sings “I’m not every woman, it’s not all in me, I’m proud and guarded, when it comes to my needs…this frenetic obsession’s driving me insane, anybody feel that?” She profoundly concludes, “I’m finite, I come to an end, I’m finite, I cannot pretend.” Thank you Sara for writing and singing such incredible songs that seep into our hearts, souls and minds. This album soothes, moves and challenges listeners. Invisible Empires is a profound listening experience.
Sara’s excellent songwriting and captivating piano-based singer-songwriter style have made her my favorite female artist in any genre of music. If you like JJ Heller, Brooke Fraser, Laura Story and Audrey Assad, you must get Invisible Empires by Sara Groves. For me, the standout songs are “Miracle,” “I’ll Wait, “Open My Hands,” “Precious Again,” “Eyes On The Prize,” “Without Love” and the gut-wrenching personal songs “Obsolete” and “Finite.” Truly, every song is amazing. It’s hard to imagine, but Sara has now once again released her “best” album topping all of her previous excellent work. Invisible Empires by Sara Groves is the top album of 2011.