Its boosters may insist that Christian pop is the sleeping giant of the music industry, but they could never back that claim until Bob Carlisle — a 40-year-old Orange County, Calif., native — came along. Although his solo debut, Shades of Grace, did well on the Contemporary Christian chart when it was released in the summer of ’96, he didn’t have a mainstream audience until ”Butterfly Kisses,” a heartfelt (if treacly) tribute to father/daughter love, began picking up adult contemporary radio play this spring. Repackaged as Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) and relaunched as a pop release, the album debuted at No. 2 three weeks ago.
Success like that may have record execs shouting hallelujah, but it’s unlikely the album will turn average listeners into true believers. That’s not a comment on the album’s Christian content, which, actually, is fairly low-key; songs like ”Living Water” and ”Man of His Word” soft-sell their statements of faith, while ”Butterfly Kisses” and ”You Must Have Been an Angel” seem almost secular in their treatment of love and devotion.
Trouble is, Carlisle’s singing is something less than inspirational. True, his quavering tenor lends a certain hammy sincerity to the title tune, but his hoarse-voiced attempts at soul leave him sounding like Third Runner-Up at a Michael McDonald imitation contest. (Though it is funny to hear him slip a bowdlerized interpolation of James Brown’s ”Sex Machine” into ”It Is Well With My Soul.”) While the success of ”Butterfly Kisses” isn’t quite miraculous, it’ll take divine intervention for Carlisle to end up as anything more than a one-hit wonder. C-