Sounds like … pop that uses gentle acoustic guitar and lightly shuffling rhythms to gently serve a powerful message.

At a glance … the assured music of an industry veteran meshed with the puzzled lyrics of someone still struggling with their understanding of faith.

Bethany Dillon's music has always had a notable sense of calm and placidity to it, a rather surprising quality for a young woman who started her career in the swell of her tumultuous teen years. In fact, her debut seemed so assured and so secure that with each successive album, the world is waiting for her to throw caution to the wind and remake herself as a full-on country diva, or to start tearing into some crunchy power chords.

Alas, Dillon hasn't broken out the distortion pedal for her fourth album. She has progressed her music, mind you. Just not in the direction you might have been expecting or hoping for. Rather, Stop & Listen features songs that are somehow even more tranquil and more even-tempered than ever before.

We could apply plenty of analysis to her still-unswayed musical approach—a reaction to a very busy previous year in which she got married and toured the world, or perhaps the wise thinking of an artist that doesn't want to rock the boat and chance alienating her already sizable fan base. But we have to take Dillon at face value, in the songs themselves. And from the look of the lyric sheet, it sounds like this young singer/songwriter has been facing a lot of humility in her walk with Christ.

Songs like "So Close" speak to coming close to the edge and almost losing balance ("I'm so close to being so far away from You/I have nothing when I'm living apart from You") while the title track implores her listeners—and herself—to try and balance the rush of our days with moments of solitude and prayer. Stripped down sentiments like those cry out for stripped down music.

After too short a time, though, Dillon's songs start to melt together into something resembling a formula. It's hard to decry her for playing the music that she wants to hear, but after four albums of fairly similar light pop/folk, it would be interesting to hear someone trying to push her out of her comfort zone. It doesn't have to be a drastic shift but something gradual that could inspire her to put a few cracks in her crystalline vocal chords.

Until that happens, we can still revel in the fact that Dillon does what she does very well. Stop & Listen may not offer too many surprises, but what you do get is comforting, gentle and rather beautiful odes to faith that indemnify at the same time that they inspire. For that, I'll gladly take a lot fewer ripples in the pond.    

Stop & Listen
Our Rating
3½ Stars - Good
Average Rating
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Release Date
September 8, 2009
Sparrow Records
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