Amy Grant's Free paints a familiar picture. She sings about recently being handed an old photograph of herself after a show and seeing a girl, "with wind in her hair, sun in her smile, hardly a care, and no sense of style."
Those of us who started listening to contemporary Christian music in the early 1980s or earlier remember pictures like that of Grant, who got her first recording contract when she was 15 years old. That was followed by a self-titled debut album with an oh-so-70s cover featuring Grant in a mauve blouse with something exploding across it and her name is a faux neon font.
Since then, we have watched Grant grow from Christian pop's goody two shoes — I will never forget a satirical Wittenberg Door story that talked about meeting her in her hotel room with milk cartons all over the floor — to something of a prodigal daughter and back again.
It has actually been 10 years since Grant, 52, released an album of new material, and she comes back exuding a trait not commonly associated with teenagers: wisdom.
How Mercy Looks From Here is a collection of songs about life and faith from the perspective of a woman who has gained a perspective on what's important.
On Don't Try So Hard, Grant sings, "You're lovely even with your scars," amid lyrics about trying to please and measure up.
In here career, Grant experienced some of this on a very public level. First was mid-1980s controversy when she made a play for mainstream success, something Christian artists were not widely attempting then, and was accused of watering down the Christian message of her lyrics. Some even slammed the leopard-print jacket she wore on the cover of her Unguarded album, probably the most modest item of women's clothing to cause a fuss in the history of rock 'n' roll.
Much more pointed was her divorce in 1999 from her first husband, singer and songwriter Gary Chapman, and subsequent marriage to country music star Vince Gill in 2000. It was a move that earned Grant condemnation from many Christians who consider divorce a sin, though more than a dozen years on, that seems to have subsided and fallen into a long line of ups and downs most people experience.
Life on that roller coaster can put people's faith to the test, but Grant says her's has remained consistent.
"I have lived a really curious life," Grant said last weekend, in an interview with NPR. "I have done things I never dreamed I would do. Personally, career-wise, privately — good and bad — I have an insane curiosity that has driven me to experience amazing things and gotten me in all kinds of trouble.
"But I never, I just never, doubted that God was."
And that faith shines through in the album, which is truer to Grant's acoustic roots than her chart-topping Baby, Baby days. It also unites her with some of her early folk heroes including James Taylor and Carole King who join her on songs that are by no standard watered down.
Taylor joins her on Don't Try So Hard, singing about God's grace, and Sheryl Crow guests on Deep As It Is Wide, about heaven and eternal life through Jesus Christ.
If anything has endured from that teenage pop star to her 50-something self, it is probably the honesty of her lyrics.
On Shovel In Hand she sings, "Forever young is a big fat lie, for those who live and those who die."
We all do both, as a 52-year-old Grant kind of reminds you.
But the good news with Grant is she has matured and gotten better with age and sounds more like an old friend than a pop star.
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com