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Album Review

Francesca Battistelli's polysyllabic Italian moniker might not be a household name … yet. But that may be about to change.

Christian music cognoscenti, of course, will be quick to point out that this 25-year-old, New York-born, Florida-raised singer actually began to make waves with her 2008 debut, My Paper Heart. Two years later, she took home the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year.

Building on that foundation, Francesca returns with her sophomore effort, Hundred More Years. It's a delightfully sunny, mostly acoustic effort that brings to mind mainstream pop songstresses such as  Colbie Caillat and Sara Bareilles—while delivering a great deal more spiritual depth than either of those singers.

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"Motion of Mercy" delivers one of the album's strongest spiritual messages as Francesca sings about how God's love compels her to act compassionately and to take the gospel to those who haven't heard it: "Now I'm filled by a love/That calls me to action/I was empty before/Now I'm drawn to compassion/ … Living for the lost/ … I wanna be a glimpse of the kingdom that's coming soon." "Worth It" explores what real love—not just the romantic variety—looks like in action ("Love's not a feeling/Love's not convenient/Love takes sacrifice/ … Love's not easy/But it's worth it").

While most of the album focuses on the love that flows back and forth between God and his children, two tracks ("So Long" and "Hundred More Years") glory in the beauty of the love shared by a man and woman. On the latter, Francesca revels in the purity of a marriage between two people who've honored God in their courtship ("She's so young, and he's so perfect/They waited for love, and it was worth it/ … They can dance under the moonlight/'Cause God is smilin' down on them tonight"). And when a little girl comes along a little later, tear-jerking lyrics picture her from her daddy's point of view: "Three years old, he's crazy for her/ … She's spinnin' like a little princess/Makin' sure he's gonna notice/He could watch her twirl for a hundred more years." In the end, the song reminds us that such poignant moments are fleeting, and we'd do well to pay attention to them ("And it's only time/But it flies right by/And today is sweeter than we know").

"This Is the Stuff" lightheartedly asks God to help the singer keep life's little annoyances in perspective and to recognize how He might use mundane setbacks like lost keys or a speeding ticket to accomplish His bigger purposes ("This is the stuff that gets under my skin/But I've gotta trust You know exactly what You're doing"). In a similar vein, the up-tempo "Don't Miss It" (the album's only real flirtation with rock) counsels deliberate deceleration in our hectic lives. "Constant" yields the singer's fears and anxiety to Christ as she remembers, "You're my constant in every moment/You've never failed me."

Grace saturates "Good to Know" as Francesca recalls the truth that "I'm never too far gone." And on "You Never Are," she tries to convince a prodigal friend that rebellious choices are never beyond the scope of God's forgiveness and redemption ("Grace is underestimated/ … God is bigger than the times we fail"). On "Angel By Your Side," she vows to stand by someone who's slogging through a season of deep grief. "Emily (It's Love)" encourages a struggling friend not to give on God ("If you feel you've had enough/He's never given up").

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Summary Advisory

A confession: Sometimes when I listen to super-sunny CDs full of life and love and zest and zip, song after song about how everything's either already OK or will soon enough be OK start to grate on my sometimes cloudy heart. In my experience, life isn't always that cheery, and I'm tempted to wonder if the artist is dealing with reality or just pushing superficial saccharine.

But I didn't respond that way to Francesca Battistelli's particular color of sunshine. Something about her homespun, down-to-earth style completely diverted my bent for melancholy. She's got a winsome knack for weaving relatable, real-life vignettes (who among us hasn't gotten annoyed by little things like losing our keys?) into songs that gently remind me of core spiritual messages about truth, grace, love and forgiveness.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one reacting that way. Word president and CEO Rod Riley told Billboard magazine, "Francesca possesses a remarkable combination of being able to write undeniably charming songs, deliver them with a distinctive voice and bring sheer authenticity to each performance. Her unique ability to draw on her faith and subtly convey how it influences her everyday life is appealing and accessible to Christian music fans and beyond."

This recovering curmudgeon couldn't agree more.

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Debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Christian chart.

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March 1, 2011

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Adam R. Holz

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