Billy Gilman, that little kid who came alive with a killer performance on an awards show that launched his career superfast, has grown up, a little. For his fourth album, Gilman, 14, does something quite different. The disc consists of a dozen songs all written by young poet Mattie J.T. Stepanek, who has MS. The music was done by a cast of others, including Gilman helping on a few songs.
No doubt about it - Stepanek knows how to write poetry that speaks to the human heart. His message, understandably so, is generally an upbeat one that tries to look at the bright side of life ("Don't you just love the morning/When you're reminded of the special gifts of life"). "I Could..If They Would" clearly mines that territory.
Not everything is so upbeat. "It Happened Anyway" is about the sadness and inability to prevent the death of Stepanek's brother. Gilman has barely been heard from for a few years. Not a surprise given that his voice was in the throes of change. He has a light voice, but one that he uses quite well. He seems to sing with little effort, but doesn't paint by the numbers either.
The same can't be said for the very predictable David Malloy production. In fact, it's awfully hard to consider this the least bit country. There's no twang or hardly even any attempt at pop country. Lots of strings are used as well. It's a big production. Deep into his teens, Gilman certainly shows he hasn't lost his ability to sing. What remains to be demonstrated here is whether he's still country.