MERCYME

"Undone"

INO

MICHAEL W. SMITH

"The Second Decade 1993-2003"

Reunion

Polished, punchy and occasionally a tad preachy, there's nothing particularly novel about MercyMe's chart-topping, Dove award-winning approach to contemporary Christian music. Songs about faith, hope and the search for clarity consistently surface on the Texas sextet's recordings, including its third and most rock-inspired CD, "Undone."

Yet unlike many of its peers, MercyMe not only boasts a singer with a voice tailor-made to deliver inspirational power pop ballads with authority, he composes them as well -- by the dozen, it seems. In fact, Bart Millard wrote (or co-wrote) all the songs on "Undone," including the strings-swept acoustic ballad "Homesick," a companion piece to the band's breakthrough hit "I Can Only Imagine." This time around the focus isn't on the departed so much as those left behind, struggling to come to grips with a sudden void in their lives.

The reflective tone of "Homesick" isn't typical of the album's offerings; that distinction belongs to "Where You Lead Me," "Everything Impossible" and "Here With Me," the CD's opening cuts and the first to reveal the band's more aggressive rock stance. But whether elegiac or guitar-driven, the songs on "Undone" nearly always illustrate Millard's talent for smoothly fusing together music and ministry.

Inspirational themes keep coming on Michael W. Smith's "The Second Decade 1993-2003," the latest chapter in his career-spanning compilations. Even when you put aside his Christian pop poster boy good looks, Smith's popularity and longevity aren't hard to understand; his tastes in pop are notoriously mainstream and his voice oozes sincerity.

A double CD/DVD set, "Second Decade" is more album sampler than greatest-hits collection. In addition to the previously released cuts, it contains three new tracks. Among them is "Signs," a soaring chorus-equipped ballad written by Smith's son Ryan that points to the rewards of faith and perseverance, and a new, fashionably cluttered version of "Friends," featuring Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Point of Grace and Michael Tait. Suffice to say that Smith's vast choir of fans will be singing along.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Saturday at Nissan Pavilion with David Crowder. * To hear a free Sound Bite from MercyMe, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8126; to hear Michael W. Smith, press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)