JJ Heller / PRETTY AND THE PLAIN Review - ChristianMusic.com
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People Involved in the creation of this Album.....

JJ and Dave Heller - Lyrics and music compositions, with the exception of WHERE I LAND
Jaylene Johnson - Co-wrote WHERE I LAND with JJ and Dave Heller.

Mitch Dane
- Producer & Mixer *
Richard Dodd and Vance Powell - Mastered the album.

JJ Heller - Lead vocals. *
Dave Heller & Andrew Osenga - Background vocals

Dave Heller - Acoustic Guitars
*Andrew Osenga - Electric Guitars, Banjo
Aaron Sands - Upright Bass, Electric Bass.
* Ben Shive - Keys, Bells
Mitch Dane - Misc Keys, Percussion * Paul Eckberg - Drums, Percussion.

Pretty and the Plain CD Review.....

PRETTY AND THE PLAIN is the second collaboration effort of JJ & Dave Heller, and producer Mitch Dane, offering a collection of songs that are wonderfully written, performed, and produced, having all the characteristics which make this album a MUST for your Christian music collection.

Yes indeed! The musically inspiring musical duo of songwriter and vocalist, JJ Heller and her husband, songwriter/ acoustic guitarist Dave Heller, have done it again! With the help of their creative, producer and mixer, Mitch Dane and their talented accompaniment musicians, this collection of songs, PRETTY AND THE PLAIN blesses the listener with a spiritually uplifting combination of dynamically expressive vocals, meaningful lyrical messages, and the unique, creative presentation of JJ and Dave Heller's memorable melodies and acoustic folk sound! 

This inspirational collection of lively/joyously positive to poignant Christian anthems, prayer hymns, praise and worship and testimony songs, present lyrical messages based on variations of the main theme of freedom and redemption through Jesus. They have a warm and probing spirituality, brought to life by a inspired, creative mix of heart-stirring vocals, well-presented meaningful lyrics, and memorable melodies all which are supported with just the right musical accompaniment, that underscore the dynamics and emotional mood, becoming the icing on the musical cake.

JJ and Dave Heller, Mitch Dane and others on their team not only fully understand the acoustic folk genre, but have the musical gifts and spiritual inspiration to offer  musically interesting vocal and instrumental sound, which uplifts one's spirit, motivates one's walk with the Lord, and encourages the listener to develop a stronger relationship with Jesus.

WOW! What a delightful, soul-stirring acoustic folk collection of songs inspired by real life; sometimes personal, reflections and experiences of JJ Heller, who wrote 9 of the songs presented, and co-wrote WHERE I LAND with Dave and Jaylene.  When an artist shares his or her own experiences and epiphanies realized in their own spiritual walk with the Lord, paired with just the right, musical compositions, wonderful qualities which bless the listener work together to provide a moving, uplifting musical experience, not to be missed!

ALL the songs are written in the first person, in ballad form, which fits well in the acoustic folk genre. Some songs explain a truth: (GROW * FLY AWAY *LITTLE THINGS * SMALL * TONIGHT * WHY IS IT COLDER?). Some songs present a direct conversation with Jesus: offering gratitude or celebrating the Lord's promises; (PRETTY AND THE PLAIN * YOU TOLD ME SO * WHERE I LAND),  or presenting a prayer for help in following Jesus:( WHEN YOU COME BACK FOR ME * HAVE MERCY ON ME - A song which explores JJ Heller's former struggle with anxiety.)

The vocals of JJ Heller reflect her considerable talent as a singer and performer, able to sing from her heart, using her voice to not only carry the melody in a dynamic manner;(SMALL), but also provides the right poignancy for different situations and emotions needed to give the lyrical messages just the right presentation. Whether it is portraying a young woman head over heels in love (TONIGHT), an unhappy wife (WHY IS IT COLDER?), delivering an anthem about a spiritual truth ( SMALL, THE LITTLE THINGS), expressing personal joy and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done (WHERE I LAND * PRETTY AND THE PLAIN), or a heartfelt prayer (HAVE MERCY ON ME), JJ Heller comes through with flying colors!

Back up vocals in the harmony parts, courtesy of  Dave Heller & Andrew Osenga, are well done and well mixed with the lead vocals, used in the dynamic high points of the songs, especially in the inspiring, well done bridge sections to great effect. (GROW * WHY IS IT COLDER * THE LITTLE THINGS * PRETTY AND THE PLAIN)

Dave and his acoustic guitars - An important element in the songs presented is the wonderful musical ability of Dave Heller whose acoustic guitar contributions add not only the perfect support to the vocals and melodies found in the variety of songs presented, (FLY AWAY, TONIGHT, WHERE I LAND), but also add a lot of spirit and energy to the various rhythms, moods, emotional / spiritual aura, complementing what is presented vocally by JJ Heller. (GROW, LITTLE THINGS *PRETTY AND THE PLAIN, YOU TELL ME SO.)

  These simple yet delicately intricate compositions, are true to the folk acoustic genre, so well composed by JJ and Dave Heller. Besides benefiting from fine acoustic talents of Dave Heller, their team of musicians, Andrew Osenga, Aaron Sands, Ben Shive, Mitch Dane & Paul Eckberg, bring their gifts and talents to this project. Beside offering fine melody, counter-melody and rhythm support, these melody enhancing instrument voices also add to the spirit, mood and energy level of the songs, complementing the lead set by the vocals.

Electric guitars, banjo, upright and electric bass, keys, bells, cello, and conventional and unconventional percussion instruments and drums, which are delicately yet effectively used, having a purpose in the various compositions.
The cello, along with the acoustic guitar provide the dreamy musical support for the romantic love expressed by the vocals in TONIGHT.

The banjo in YOU TELL ME SO, provides the upbeat, positive feeling expressed in the vocals, praising the faithfulness of the Lord.

The bass work gives added umph to such stirring, driven acoustic anthems as THE LITTLE THINGS and THE PRETTY AND THE PLAIN.

An ensemble of instruments support the hopeful message delivered in the bridge of the rather mournful song, WHY IS IT COLDER?

An ensemble of instruments provide an upbeat interlude as a transition segue between the song, HAVE MERCY ON ME and the reprise of WHEN YOU COME BACK TO ME.

The high, clear quality of the musical listening experience found on this album, points to the wonderful job done by Mitch Dane and Paul Eckberg, in mixing the various vocal and instrumental tracks together and in making the master sound track for this album, PRETTY AND THE PLAIN.  All the instrument voices, vocals and backup vocals not only can all be distinctly heard in order of importance, but also it all works together, with the dynamics, spirituality and meaning of the songs presented in a truly inspiring musical package, which is most enjoyable to listen to and soak into one's being.

It is no wonder that the musical package found on the Cd, PRETTY AND THE PLAIN  not only encourages praise, worship, gratitude for what the Lord has done in our individual lives, but also can lead to personal self-reflection on our own spiritual walk and relationship with the Lord, during our good times and our inevitable struggles.

Reviewed by Julie Carr -

WANT TO KNOW MORE? ... The Songs' Lyrical Messages &  Song Notes and Evaluations

Another JJ Heller Review... ONLY LOVE REMAINS Review

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