Nichole Ellyse Nordeman was born on January 3, 1972 in Dallas, Texas. She was raised in Colorado Springs. In 1998 she won a songwriting competition put on by the Gospel Music Association. In an interview with Dan MacIntosh for Crosswalk Music she said: “I respect songwriters tremendously, just because I can relate to the craft. People like James Taylor, Carole King, and Billy Joel all have my respect. But I can also listen to bubble-gum pop, and be just as happy”. Nichole released her debut album WIDE EYED on Star Song Records in 1998. It was produced and arranged by Mark Hammond, while John Mays served as executive producer. In the liner notes, Nordeman writes: “To the Creator of all life and Giver of all gifts. May this work be, in some small way, a tribute to Your greatness. And may You choose to further reveal Yourself through it”. The album peaked at #16 on the US Billboard Christian Albums chart.
Starting things off is ‘To Know You’, one of five songs written by the duo of Nichole and Mark Hammond. It was the album’s first single and went on to become one of four songs from the album to be a Top 40 hit on Christian Adult Contemporary radio. This song is one of honesty: “Thomas needed proof that You had really risen/Undefeated when He placed His fingers/Where the nails once broke Your skin/Did his faith finally begin?/I’ve lied if I denied the common ground I’ve shared with him”. The title track, ‘Wide Eyed’, is one of five songs solely written by Nichole. It was the album’s last single. Gordon Kennedy plays guitars and Mark Hammond plays bass on this adult contemporary song that will make you think: “Not so long ago/A man from Galilee fed thousands with His bread and His theology/And the truth He spoke quickly became the joke of educated, self-inflated Pharisees like me/And they were wide eyed in disbelief and disillusion/They were tongue tied, drawn by their conclusions/Would I have turned and walked away and laughed at what He had to say/And casually dismissed Him as a fraud/Unaware that I was staring at the image of my God?”
‘Who You Are’ is a great song that uses The Nashville String Machine. It reflects on how we view God: “It is easy to insist on what is packaged and precise/And dismiss the clear suspicion/That You’re bigger than we’d like/It is tempting to regard You as familiar in so many ways/I know I can’t explain You/I would not even try to/And still it’s clear that You are here beside me/I marvel and I wonder/So near and somehow still so far/What makes You who You are?” Caitlin Hammond is a backing vocalist on ‘Anyway’. It’s an easy listening song about our worth: “A gallery of paintings new and paintings old/I guess it’s no surprise that I’m no Michelangelo/Every layer of mine hides a lovely design/It might take a little patience/It might take a little time/But You called me beautiful/When You saw my shame/And You placed me on the wall/Anyway”.
Craig Young plays bass on the pop song ‘I Wish the Same for You’. It finds Nichole desiring others to find a relationship with God: “We are not so different/Sons and daughters, you and I/Facing walls of questions/Fearing answers on the other side of eternity/And what the day will bring/But I finally found the safe and sound/And I wish the same for you/There’s something to hold on to/Yeah, I wish the same for you/A chance for love”. George Cocchini plays guitars and Gary Lunn plays bass on ‘Is it Any Wonder’. It speaks of the pressures the world puts on women and men: “Is it any wonder that she would feel less than real/When she reveals what is clearer in her mirror?/Take a look around her/Magazines, glamour queens.../Take a look around him/His wallet size and what he drives/Will symbolize how he’s made it/How they’ll grade it”.
Nichole plays piano on ‘Burnin’’, a terrific ballad about spiritual refinement: “Used to be that I could say/My faith was one arm’s length away/From any flame that ever felt too warm/Asked for matches but I received a gallon full of gasoline/Now my cozy campfire days are gone/And I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’/And I know I’m gonna blister in these flames/But I’ll stay here til this smoke clears/And I’ll find You in the ashes that remain”. ‘Gone are the Days’ is a cool pop song about how God accepts us: “No more self-rejection, no longer paralyzed/This holy perfection/Is me in Your eyes/Gone are the days of all that I was afraid of/I’ve left behind the traces of who I’ve been/I’m no longer able to wrestle with this angel/And the closer You get, I can let You love me/You love me”.
Of the next song, ‘To Say Thanks’, Nichole writes: “For anyone who believes that every storm in life comes from the guy with a pitchfork and a red cape”. These lyrics are thought provoking: “Even fields of flowers dressing in their best because of You/Knowing they are blessed to be in bloom/But what about November/When the air is cold and wet winds blow/Do they understand why they can’t grow?/Why? (4X)/Why does it keep getting harder to say thanks?/And I could not pretend to know the difference between the storms You send and those I find”. Nature lovers will appreciate the closing easy listening ballad, ‘River God’. It’s about spiritual growth: “Rolling river God/Little stones are smooth/Only once the water passes through/So I am a stone/Rough and grainy still/Trying to reconcile this river’s chill/But when I close my eyes and feel You rushing by/I know that time brings change and change takes time/And when the sunset comes/My prayer would be this one/That You might pick me up/And notice that I am/Just a little smoother in Your hand”.
WIDE EYED has got to be right up there with the finest of debut albums in Contemporary Christian Music! Fans of Sara Groves and Sarah McLachlan will appreciate the adult contemporary, light pop, and easy listening sounds on this record, along with Nichole’s endearing vocals. Spiritual growth is a reoccurring theme here. It takes time and sometimes it hurts. Another topic explored is that we can’t know everything about God on this earth. It’s okay to have questions and doubts. These songs convey a desire to know God and also convey our worth to Him. I’m rating WIDE EYED a perfect 100% with bonus points for Nichole’s nifty hairdo on the front cover. For more info visit: www.nicholenordeman.com.