Release Date: February 10th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Can’t Live Without
- Love With Your Life
- All My Love
- In Awe
- Party in the Hills (feat. Andy Mineo and Steven Malcolm)
- Go (feat. TobyMac & Diverse City)
- Waiting For
- Girl (feat. Tree Giants)
- Love With Your Life (Capital Kings Remix)
Hollyn has been, if you could argue, one of the greatest finds in CCM within the last few years. If you would just pick one, I’d say it’d be her. Only 19, Hollyn has found her way into the hearts and living rooms of many listeners around the world, myself included. Signed to the small yet equally diverse Gottee Records (home to artists such as Finding Favour, Capital Kings and Ryan Stevenson to name a few), Hollyn’s maturity lyrically and stylistically, even vocally beyond her 19 years is as remarkable as it is awe-inspiring, which makes her new album One Way Conversations dropping February 10th digitally (and March 3rd physically) a must have for anyone who loves hip hop, pop, worship, rap, or even just plain something different compared to whatever is out there on the radio right now. Hollyn’s music is a sight to behold, full of hope, encouragement, emotion and raw honesty, something I reckon isn’t as expressed as it should within the confines of Christian radio. Which is sad. Because more often than not, an artist has much more to say than the album they deliver and release. Which is why there are many split, albeit amicably or much more strained, between the artist and the label, throughout the course of the artist’s career.
Which is why I reckon Hollyn’s ability to deliver a variety of musical genres across the span of 11 songs makes me hopeful that moving forward, Christian labels can appreciate a whole package of what an artist can bring to the table. Now let me say that every kind of music has its purpose. Chris Tomlin has as much importance to lend a conversation to the table as much as Derek Minor, TobyMac, Francesca Battistelli, Hillsong UNITED, MercyMe, as much as any other artist in the Christian music industry. Every ‘genre’ if you will has merit. But from hearing One Way Conversations, Hollyn’s genre can’t be easily defined…and that’s a good thing. From pop and worship, to hip hop and rap, even having guest vocalists like TobyMac, Andy Mineo and Steven Malcolm on various tracks, this is a must have if you are searching for another female music artist to add to your catalogue, who isn’t the carbon copy of artists like Natalie Grant or Francesca Battistelli… not that there’s anything wrong with these two aforementioned artists, but sometimes, the more bands form, the more solo artists release their albums, the more it is likely that they would sound similar to bands and artists gone before. It’s nice to see Hollyn try to break that mould and deliver something that is unique and different than what you would averagely find on your local Christian radio station.
What I have found with One Way Conversations is that this 11 track project is one full of purpose, intentionality and heart, a collection of songs that are focused in what they have to say, alongside it being musically diverse as Hollyn tries to reach a wide array of listeners who may enjoy a vast amount of musical genres. “Love With Your Life” is pop, while a song like “Party in the Hills”, which features rappers Andy Mineo and newcomer Steven Malcolm is indeed, primarily rap. “In Awe” is a moment of reflection and a quasi-worship moment, while yet another style shift happens in “GO”, that features TobyMac and his Diverse City crew…and we all know the style that Toby is famous for. Let’s just say that Hollyn has presented to us an album with something for everyone. Quite literally.
The first radio single from the album that released on iTunes mid-last year, “Love With Your Life” is a song that speaks all about what it means to be a Christian- to show that we are indeed Christians, that we are indeed changed from the inside out by the love of Christ, by how we live. Sure, we know that it is not how we live alone that will bring us into heaven, but rather, it is because of our firm and unswaying belief in Christ and Christ alone. Yet the reason why we choose to ‘love with our life’ is this- that it is out of our relationship with our Father that it is only natural to express that in our daily lives, and also that our friends and family who may not believe what we do can see the effects of the change in our lives we lead. It is out of a place of love for our Father that we live the lives that we do, rather than some duty that often we are led to believe.
With a light electric guitar undertone, Hollyn introduces this theme that was just discussed. Loving with our lives isn’t easy, in fact, it’s a pretty hard thing to do. To love the unloveable, forgiving those who have hurt us, to outwardly express the inward change inside of us…a lot of this takes courage, but as Hollyn depicts it in the chorus- ‘…if you wanna see a change, you gotta love with your life…’ The song, which also has a remix track at #11 (Capital Kings Remixes sadly aren’t that captivating for me, yet this arrangement of Hollyn’s song is enjoyable and fun), is a challenge, a way-of-life if you will. It is a moment when you realise that we as Christians have to show that we are indeed Christians, rather than just say that we are and that is it. Hopefully “Love With Your Life” is a reminder, that a song can be catchy, complete with electronic keyboards and a pulsating percussion beat, as well as having a heartfelt and encouraging message, something we all ought to hear and comprehend, that in order for people to respond positively to the change in us, we first have to act like there is a change in the first place.
While “Love With Your Life” is the standout song if you were to pick one on One Way Conversations, the remainder 9 tracks (there is a remix of “Love With Your Life” to take the track listing to 11) nevertheless still impresses and remind us of the quality of Hollyn’s work, as each track is sonically different to the last. “Can’t Live Without” is the next single after “Love With Your Life”, and is an appropriate one as well. In a world of uncertainty with many world events snowballing over the year to give us 2017 where I reckon a lot of major world events could happen to unsettle a lot of people, this song by Hollyn brings it back to God’s love at the centre. With a California-style atmosphere, complete with loads of percussion/light electric guitar, this 4:22 melody is shown by Hollyn as a personal moment, relaying to us all that ‘…without Your love, there’s no point in even waking up…without Your love, nothin’s ever gonna be enough…You give me what the world could never give, I can’t live without your love…’ Fun filled with a good beat, and also great vocals (in fact, dare I say that vocally, Hollyn is second to Lauren Daigle as my favourite female vocalist at the moment?), “Can’t Live Without” is a personal testimony of Hollyn’s, and maybe, just maybe, a testimony of ours as well as the months and years go by!
Throughout the rest of the album, Hollyn touches on some themes that are much different compared to the radio friendly pop songs she’s done in the past about the Christian life. “Obvious” is heartfelt and is sung from the point of view of someone who is longing to help another friend in need, yet that friend isn’t really helping themselves out of their certain situation; while “All My Love”, the ‘mainstream’ track if you will, is a song about a relationship between boyfriends/girlfriends, and how when you’re in that relationship, you’re going to give all your love to that other person. Whether the song is autobiographical or not is anyone’s guess, but “All My Love”, complete with slight vocal distortions and a little bit of autotune (in fact, I reckon a little too much on this track, but that’s probably the only downside of Hollyn’s vocal ability- using a little too much autotune in various tracks), is a reminder for us all, to give all our love to our significant other when we’re in a relationship, not holding back a part of us we’re willing to keep to ourselves.
“Party in the Hills” is indeed a song about ‘partying’, and while Hollyn showcases her powerful vocals, the song sadly is seemingly about partying and having a good time, sort of like a ‘Live it Up’ Group 1 Crew-type track…nothing bad about having a song like that on the album, yet when One Way Conversations is full of songs that are focused on relationships or living a godly life, “Party in the Hills” sadly feels out of place. Nevertheless, the song still is good sonically and vocally, yet the track indeed breaks the cohesiveness and flow of it!
“Lovely” is a song full of strings and light percussion as Hollyn presents to us a track of two moments, one where we see what the world thinks of us as, and one where we see the truth, and see ourselves the way that God sees us- lovely. While not too musically ‘complicated’ like other songs (‘Party in the Hills’ or ‘All My Love’ to name a few), “Lovely” is a quiet and timely reminder of the fact that we all need to be encouraged upon, often on a daily basis. “GO” features TobyMac and Diverse City, and while I initially thought Toby would add his famous signature rap towards the song, what Toby and his band delivered was just some backing vocals here and there- sadly not anything to get excited about if you are a Toby fan. Still, the song shouldn’t really be called ‘feat.’ but rather ‘with’- a better representation. The song and what it’s about? “GO” can be seen in two ways- the persona singing to the Devil and longing to be rid of his clutches on their soul in various aspects of their life, or them singing about an abusive relationship and wanting to be free of that. The beauty of the song is that both recipients of the track can be impacted and encouraged because of the song. “GO”, though I probably wanted more Toby, is nevertheless an encouraging and powerful track, and one of my favourites on One Way Conversations.
“Waiting For” is perhaps one of the most vulnerable and honest songs Hollyn has ever sung, as she imparts to the listener about a failed relationship she has had in the past, while the album ‘ender’ (before “Love With Your Life” (Capital Kings Remix)”) “Girl (feat. Tree Giants)” is a song about who she is as a person, and how she was able to move into the music industry a few years ago. The song is autobiographical, yet, I felt at times that Tree Giants were becoming more prominent than Hollyn was in the song, and while I’m all for guest vocalists, in a little under 3 minute track, I felt at times I was listening to a Tree Giants song rather than Hollyn’s. Nevertheless, at least the song is unique musically and showcases another style of Hollyn’s as the listeners appreciate more and more that this underrated artist can do. Finally, a song that I reckon is my favourite- “In Awe”. A quasi worship track akin to that of “Mine” (from her debut self-titled EP) or even “After You” from Britt Nicole’s self-titled album that released last year; “In Awe” features the acoustic guitar and a piano riff as Hollyn delivers one of the most poignant and emotive lyrics in the whole album- ‘…I can’t speak, so close I can feel You breathe, You’re so holy and worthy, You know where I’ve been…I’m living in awe cause You don’t need me at all, but You couldn’t love me more…’ Amazing isn’t it? That God who is holy and perfect chose to know us in the most-humblest of ways- to be a human and commune amongst the lowly, and even die in our place for us to be reconciled back to the Father. “In Awe” is only a glimpse into the gratitude that we ought to feel when we know the lengths God took for us to be in communion with Him once again! Well done Hollyn for such a powerful song…maybe even a radio single in the future?
Hollyn’s new album (in fact, this is her first full length official album, even though she has released her debut project as an EP in 2015) is a long time coming for Hollyn fans like myself. Is it flawed a little? Of course, any album that has no improvement is seemingly not really an album at all. Because all in all, the fact that the album has points of improvement means that Hollyn still has things to learn, which is good knowing that as a 19 year old, Hollyn’s maturity and song writing skills is miles ahead of anyone who was 19 and in the music industry (even more than Rebecca St. James way back in the day, and that is saying a lot!). Hollyn is a bright spot amongst new artists over the last few years within the Christian music industry. Add into the mix other new artists like Jordan Feliz, Hannah Kerr, Capital Kings, Tim Timmons, Grayson Reed, Micah Tyler and Ellie Holcomb, and the future looks bright for Christian music. Will Hollyn walk along the same line as Lauren Daigle and become one of the most sought after female Christian artists (aside from proven quality artists like Natalie Grant or Francesca Battistelli) in 2017? Only time will tell. Til then, let us all enjoy One Way Conversations, it’s almost a shoe-in that the album will be nominated in the Best Rap/Hip Hop Album at the Dove Awards in October this year! Well done Hollyn for such an encouraging album, here’s hoping it’ll be a crossover hit in the upcoming months ahead!
3 songs to listen to: Lovely, In Awe, Can’t Live Without
RIYL: V. Rose, Rachael Lampa, Britt Nicole, HillaryJane, Lecrae, TobyMac