Sixpence None The Richer

This is not actually their début but one might accurately call it their crossing-over. Originating as a slight act in the Christian alternative scene, this outwardly secular third album expands their oeuvre and enlivens their style without compromising their perspective. While This Beautiful Mess was somewhat moody and overly prone to navel-gazing, Matt Slocum's songwriting has both matured and lightened to leaven the pensiveness with better beats and a little pop yet preserve the signature lyrical heft so sweetly delivered by lead Leigh Nash. Whether a meditation on emotion's fragility ("I Won't Stay Long") or just a gentle plea for romantic affirmation ("Can't Catch You"), her breathy nightingale vocals serve as the band's soul while the richer production by Steve Taylor yields a stronger body. The spiritual themes have not been abandoned ("Anything," "Moving On"), yet they ground the album without smothering it just as much as the sugary moments like "Kiss Me" don't trivialize it. It's not perfect — the Pablo Neruda-derived "Puedo Escribir" is fatally pretentious, one jarring note in a great symphony — but the fact they stay true to themselves throughout only makes this earnest, appealing album more delightful. The reissue adds "There She Goes," another airy single in the vein of "Kiss Me" and no less charming. (Content: no concerns.)