Ask Avery: Janet Paschal’s latest project

Our fitful feature – wherein you ask me something and I hazard an answer – is back. This installment comes from regular reader CVH, sending along the press release announcing Janet Paschal’s new album release and asking:

So what do you think?  A hymns project (which was well done and well received) and now a ‘safe’ record with covers of her own hits.  Playing it safe?  Playing it smart?  I’m sure it will sell well but I’d like to see her move into new territory rather than rehashing the old, no matter how popular or saleable it may be. 

I know I’m hopelessly in the tank for Paschal (she could sing her 1040 form and I’d buy it,  or at least ask for a free review copy), but even factoring my bias in (or out), I guess I don’t quite see it this way. Paschal has always been more of a brand than an artiste – a charismatic brand with immense talent, to be sure, but a personality brand all the same.

This isn’t a complaint. In fact, my suspicion is that Paschal has succeeded in large part by recognizing that while she’s above averagely talented and predisposed by virtue of gender, beauty, and background to appeal to a wide swath of mainstream Christian music consumers, she’s not got the instincts of an artistic visionary. 

Visionaries want to create musical art (Bob Dylan, say). Everybody else just wants to make music. What separates Paschal from the rest of the herd in Christian music is that she doesn’t pretend to an artistic ambition she doesn’t possess. Instead, she’s surrounded herself with people of first-rate artistic instincts … among them, Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey, who have helped Paschal avoid a late-career drift into mediocrity or self-parody, or simply stagnation. Instead she’s released albums that are not, as CVH rightly notes, going to win any awards for experimentalism, but that nevertheless sound like the work of someone who is coming ever more fully into her own.

Paschal has, of course, always been a self-possessed performer, but the arc of her career has been a slow, incremental progression toward a greater and greater measure of independence. She emerged on the scene with the Nelons as the blonde Rexette. She ultimately left ensemble work to go solo, but even then the next two decades or more of her identity as a soloist developed in the shadow of strong male personalities: first Jimmy Swaggart and then Bill Gaither. 

I’ve only heard a few bits and pieces of her current release, Treasures (I couldn’t get the pre-release tracks Vine provided to play … ahem … Kevin, I’m looking at you), but from the little of it I’ve heard, I tend to see it as the latest installment of a career-long movement toward more and more professional, expressive autonomy (you can here talk about the new project here).

In that context, covering tunes from her Nelons days is not just or even primarily about doing a nostalgic “safe” record. As much as anything else it may well be an act of personal and professional reclamation … returning to the music that defined the launch of her career and filtering it through the prism of time, experience, success, suffering, love, loss, and all the other shaping pressures of that age provides.

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  1. Bryce wrote:

    “She emerged on the scene with the Nelons as the blonde Rexette.”

    Actually, she emerged as a brunette LeFevre.

  2. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Yep. Janet was there when the LeFevres became the Nelons.

  3. Jim Gerdes wrote:

    I wouldn’t want Janet any other way. I don’t want her to drift off to never never land and bring in heavy drums and do 7-11 la-la music. Her voice is terrific, her personality the same, and her personal writing unique. She could do 20 hymn albums and I would buy them all.

  4. Wade wrote:

    Janet is TOTAL CLASS… if anybody has anything bad to say about her I need to see ya outside.

  5. Alan wrote:

    I doubt you’ll get many comments that are anything but positive about anything Janet does. Wade’s so right, she is total class. A cover of her best songs is actually a neat idea. Likely every artist, through the years, changes an inflection here and there when they perform them live. And, since she’s one of Christian music’s most expressive and unique phrasers of a song, (if not the very best) I’d bet that without even hearing this project yet, there will be subtle, but noticeable differences that will make it all seem fresh. I have to get this one! And yep - I couldn’t agree more - if she records 30 hymn projects, I’ll buy every one!

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