Nichole Nordeman took time off to raise her son after her award-winning 2002 album Woven and Spun, so besides an interim live album, Brave is the first album from her in three years. Not surprisingly, it's as if she never left. Her voice is as gorgeous as ever. But on Brave, it's Nordeman's songwriting that really stands out. She's transformed the experiences of starting a family and settling into a non-hectic, non-touring, non-spotlight life — at least for a little while — into an album that goes beyond the usual CCM devotionals to offer clean, clear, inspiration for life. So a song like "Real to Me," while is asking God for a tangible sign that grace and worship and rest really work, is just as easily translatable to interpersonal human relationships. Nordeman is clear about her faith, her belief. But she is never heavy handed with it. She even struggles with it, asking Him to explain the unexplained and terrible in the beautifully moody "Someday" and challenging the longstanding concepts in "What If." On Brave, Nordeman is honest with herself and the audience, instead of riding a high horse of rhetoric. Working closely with producer Jay Joyce she's crafted a mix of atmospheric, buoyant pop ("No More Chains," "Someday,") and introspective piano numbers ("Crimson") and like Woven's meditation on Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," there's even time for a cover. This time around it's Bob Dylan's searching, cynically reverent "Gotta Serve Somebody," redone in a style somewhere between Sheryl Crow and Kelly Clarkson. It's not the most functional version. However, Nordeman's heartfelt delivery makes it an integral part of Brave's inspirational, unfailingly honest, and crisply modern approach to CCM.