By Jeff Koch
(WNS)–Steffany Gretzinger is a heartfelt singer-songwriter who combines the jazz crooning of Madeleine Peyroux and Norah Jones with a few diving swoops, a la Joni Mitchell. The emotion is palpable in her debut album, perhaps because just before recording it she discovered she was pregnant with her first child. (Turns out both her creations debuted at about the same time.)
Gretzinger explains that The Undoing is about how “this whole life is full of process—it’s the process of being unwound.” Simple song structures provide a canvass to showcase her rich voice and thoughtful reflections on the spiritual life. Happily, Gretzinger saves some of the best material until later in the album, as a reward for the diligent listener.
Not that the beginning is anything to sneeze at. “Morning Song” is Gretzinger’s ode to the hope and beauty of a new day. A playful acoustic guitar and bright piano tones bring the feel of buzzing bees and the aroma of spring as Gretzinger enjoys the simple gifts: “I can feel the rising of the sun / mercy sings me the promise of Your love.” The grace that greets each new day makes physical waking inseparable from spiritual wakening, and the former becomes a metaphor for the latter. Gretzinger’s golden tones quicken the listener’s spirit during the refrain, “I’m waking up.”
“Steady Heart” is near the end of the album and is its most creative track, with trippy vocal overdubs intermixed with a kaleidoscope of interlocking synthesizer parts. Amidst the swirl of stimulation, Gretzinger decides that although, “I can’t see what’s in front of me / still I will trust you.” Out of the melee emerges a steady heartbeat of hand percussion to bring shape and solidity to the musical journey. Similarly on life’s tumultuous journey, God’s presence and character provides a “Steady heart that keeps on going / Steady love that keeps on hoping / Lead me on.”
Gretzinger places the best song exactly in the center of the set. “Letting Go” is also the simplest song on the album, with just vocals and an acoustic guitar, allowing plenty of room for the arrangement to breathe—and not merely metaphorically. Gretzinger breathes a gentle sigh during the prelude which mingles with the meditative plucking of guitar to provide pathos to the opening observation: “You have brought me to the end of myself / and this has been the longest road.” After trolling the depths of weariness, Gretzinger’s voice springs upward on the chorus, “I’m letting go,” like a Christian being set free from his burden.
While Gretzinger brings substantial emotion to The Undoing, the album is no maudlin “girls’ night out” with Kleenex and catharsis. Gretzinger balances her sensitivity with excellent musical instincts to keep the project engaging for music fans, regardless of gender.
And her central thesis is undoubtedly a compelling one: “You unwind me / until I’m finally undone / With Your arms around me / fear was no match for Your love.” It’s a glimpse into that divine determination to upend our lives, which C.S. Lewis likewise experienced in the “steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”
Music fans can hope that Gretzinger’s Undoing, like our own, is just the beginning.