As I Am
Kristin Chenoweth's 2001 album was a collection of standards that showcased her winning soprano and remarkable ability to shift from Broadway brassy to "My Funny Valentine" sultry at the turn of a note. Let Yourself Go was a great follow-up to her 1999 Tony win for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. But since then Chenoweth has branched out from Broadway, particularly into acting (she joined the cast of West Wing in 2004), and As I Am reflects her higher profile. It's a personal album that mixes country and adult contemporary instrumentation in a set featuring hymnal book standards and contemporary Christian favorites. Chenoweth herself is pictured in relaxed cotton separates — every bit the attractive, approachable celebrity — and there isn't a Broadway tune in the bunch. As I Am begins with "It Will Be Me." A pedal steel helps the 1999 Faith Hill tune retain its country-pop feel, but there's also a slickness suitable to Chenoweth's flawless vocal. "Because He Lives" has a similar modern country sheen, while "Joyful, Joyful"'s rich arrangement for strings and piano gives the vocalist a stage for a little of that Broadway expression. Diane Warren's pristine "Borrowed Angels" is destined for lite FM radio, and Chenoweth dedicates "There Will Never Be Another" to Amy Grant. Though its slickness is suited to the material, As I Am can also seem to flutter inside its own perfect globe, untouched by the elements and radiant as Chenoweth's golden hair. That's why a version of the traditional "Poor, Wayfaring Stranger" is so refreshing with its warm B-3 tones and subtly expressive vocal, and the fun closer "Taylor, the Latte Boy" — about Kristin's crush on her Starbucks barista — is so important. These songs further personalize As I Am; they add a layer of realness to its shiny dedications of faith.