Assessing a film’s soundtrack can be a dicey affair, particularly given that one is analyzing only part of a whole as the music is intended to support and undergird the emotional substance of the movie. Such is the case when one takes a look and listen to the soundtrack for the upcoming film, Grace Unplugged.
For the uninitiated, the film centers on the story of Grace Trey (AJ Michalka), a talented pastor’s daughter who longs to make it in the big time. Her father, Johnny Trey (James Denton), was a one-hit wonder who crashed and burned and has consistently warned his daughter against the dangers out there. But when Johnny’s former manager (Kevin Pollak) arrives on the scene, Grace shares her talent and heart to break out with him and he gives her a shot in Los Angeles, working her way to the top. But along the way, she is challenged to compromise her beliefs and finds herself wandering, only kept stable through the support and encouragement of record label intern, Quentin (Michael Welch.)
Knowing that slight bit of information informs the listening of the soundtrack a good bit and, quite frankly, it’s pretty easy to see where these tracks fall in line with the story. There are the early bits of praise and worship, showcasing Grace’s talent as she sings tracks such as “Desert Song” and “You Never Let Go,” each performed well, as Michalka’s throaty voice is sound even if hampered a bit by an arrangement that’s a bit by the numbers.
From there, Michalka offers up “Misunderstood,” which this reviewer is guessing fits into her new pop star life within the film as she bridges electronic elements with a soulful delivery, the blips and beeps lending the track depth. CCM veteran TobyMac makes an appearance on the soundtrack, his track “Steal My Show” showcasing the hardness of life on the road no doubt while Colton Dixon’s “In And Out of Time” and Nine Lashes’ “The Void” provide a burst of tempo and moodier elements, highlighting the fictional singer’s struggles against what she knows to be true.
Finally, (and this is still conjecture), it seems as though Grace Trey finds herself making the right decision, which we can only assume is to return home, as evidenced by Luminate’s bright pop number, “Welcome to Daylight,” and Michalka’s earnest piano driven praise on “All I’ve Ever Needed.” It’s a nice song and Michalka pours her all into it but, sonically and lyrically it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before and suffers from its familiarity. In addition to these tracks, artists such as Josh Wilson, Chris Tomlin, Jamie Grace (who also stars in the film), and Shawn McDonald make an appearance but, while their tracks are good, they don’t really stand out too much.
And that’s the issue with this recording. While these songs are nice sounding, there’s very little connecting them save for their relationship to this film. AJ Michalka is a talented vocalist and it’ll be exciting to see where she goes from this but here her arrangements are largely safe and sound, almost whitewashed. And with that taken into account alongside the lack of connection with the supporting artists outside of the movie’s context, the record feels like a shortened “WOW Hits” album, featuring some solid songs but with little to relate them together.