Release Date: September 13th 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Blame it on the Hope
- He’s Already There
- I’m Still Here (feat. Mac Powell)
- These Days
- Under Control
- Lay it Down
- Enough For Me
One of 2012’s most anticipated newly signed artists, alongside others like Moriah Peters, Rhett Walker Band and Lindsay McCaul; Karyn Williams, who unveiled her debut project on Inpop Records, has continued to be one of my favourite, honest, powerful and poignant female vocalists I’ve heard in recent memory. With vulnerability, energy and heartfelt messages in the form of songs like “Rest in the Hope”, “This is Freedom” and “Hey There”; Karyn’s sophomore release, Letting Go of Perfect followed in 2015, an album full of promises and hopeful convictions as Karyn’s signature pop/acoustic style was showcased through various hits and standouts on that album, from the acoustical nature of ‘Who Says’, and the worshipful ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’, to the country-esque ‘Ordinary Angels’ as well as the Danny Gokey duet ‘You Are My Rest’. Now here in 2018, we see another Karyn Williams project being offered again- 8 song EP Blame it On the Hope, slated to widely release on September 13th 2018, but now available to listen to on her website in the meantime. And while it has taken a while between albums for Karyn (between each album is approximately 3 years or so, longer than the average 2 or so for any other CCM artist), what has nevertheless remained the same is Karyn’s heart to deliver music that points straight to Jesus. A welcomed surprise release this year (to be honest, I was not even aware that Karyn was releasing anything this year, until…well, today!), Karyn’s music is well worth the wait, especially if you are a fan of her previous material, or if you enjoy similar artists like Amy Grant, Natalie Grant or Rebecca St. James.
Because of the surprise release, and the under-the-radar promotion of the whole thing in general, as I glance through this track list, I am unsure about which song is promoted as the first radio single…normally in reviews of other albums that are much more publicised, I discuss the first single, then move onto the promotional ones, and then the rest of the project, here, I’m not sure- maybe I talk about it in track list order? Then again, looking at the 8 track listing, there are a few songs that stand out from the get-go. Re-release ‘Enough For Me’ was originally on Karyn’s 2012 album Only You and stands at track 8 (the last) on Blame it on the Hope. First thought was ‘why a re-release? Can’t there be anything new?’ But then I caught myself and thought, ‘gee, there has to be a reason why such a song that was on an album in 2012 is again here on an album in 2018’. So then I listened to the song again. And I was completely impacted and floored- ‘Enough For Me’ was probably one of the songs that I glossed over when I reviewed Only You way back in the day. Now, hearing this song again, places a whole new meaning behind the message of it- for the song and its message is this, that God is enough, and that no amount of success, failure, despair, triumph, no possession or prizes, will ever bring us closer or farther away from our Lord. That God is enough and that everything else ought to fall by the wayside and hold next to no significance if we truly believe in what Christ has done and is continuing to do in our lives daily. Sobering and heartfelt, ‘Enough For Me’ is very much deserving as being a re-release, as many of the other originally written new songs on this EP. Then there’s Mandisa’s ‘These Days’. Then again, looking at the credits of ‘These Days’, Mandisa never wrote it. Written by Tony Wood and Ben Glover, as well as Karyn Williams’ husband Brian White, I guess it’s fitting for ‘These Days’ to be placed on Blame it on the Hope, as a song originally recorded in 2011 is very much needed now as it was back then. ‘These Days’ refers to the everyday, the days where we are tired, when we’re stressed, when we’re happy, when everything is going well, when everything is not going well. God is a God over all of them, and I must learn to love each day as it is, and not wish for it to be something else, and then I’d be happy. Happiness and joy ought not to depend on what I perceive my day could be like verses what it really is, but rather, I ought to ‘…learn to love these days, life along the way, in the middle of the crazy, God, Your love is so amazing, through the ups and downs, You’re the only hope I’ve found though, Lord You meet me in the madness, so I’ll learn to love these days…’
‘Blame it on the Hope’ starts off the EP in EDM-pop fashion as Karyn relays the message of the song, that we as Christians need to give a reason for our outlook on life, a reason for why we believe the things we do. The song itself shows us the reasons why- that the hope we have in Christ ought to fuel our very decisions, that we should ‘…blame it on the hope in me, blame it on what I believe, there’s grace greater than all my sin, found a love that’ll never end, living, forgiven and free, blame it on the hope…’ while ‘He’s Already There’ continues with the EDM influence as Karyn reminds us of how we are secure in God’s plans for us. Our worries about tomorrow and circumstances both now and in the future ought not to trump over what we know to be true, that God knows and that ‘…there’s a greater plan for me, bigger dreams than I could ever dream, He says ‘be still and know I’m everywhere, and as for tomorrow, well I’m already there’…’ Thematically similar to Casting Crowns’ ‘Already There’ and Lauren Daigle’s ‘Everything’; this new song from Karyn is a refreshing moment of clarity and confidence, knowing we are forever secure in God’s hands, even if on the surface the road we’re on seems unclear. ‘Under Control’ channels a 1GN/Group 1 Crew dance vibe as Karyn reiterates the underlying message, that God has things under control, even when it seems like He’s out of the picture, and while the music arrangements and even the lyrics seem sincere and passionate, the song itself and its incarnation as it is, seems a little flat and uninspired, when a few songs before, we have ‘He’s Already There’, a song who’s theme is very much similar to ‘Under Control’. Nevertheless, Karyn’s passion is still evident in the song, and I can’t help but sing along to this catchy melody- maybe in the future, I can enjoy this song and see the merit of it more than right now.
‘Drive’, ‘Lay It Down’ and ‘I’m Still Here’ are the remaining songs on the EP, and each song presents a different musical backdrop as Karyn continues to remind us of the vast myriad of themes that have been present on Blame it on the Hope– this is still true of the remaining three songs! ‘Lay It Down’, similar in theme to Mallary Hope’s ‘Lay It Down’ or even Sanctus Real’s ‘Lay It Down’, we are met with a stripped down acoustically driven moment of realisation, that we as humans are not meant to carry things on our own, that we should lay down the things we know God can and will carry, because it is at the border of laying down the things we hold dear, that we can truly live freely knowing that He has everything in His hands, and we don’t have to worry about the outcome- we can trust and live our lives out of that freeing mentality. ‘Drive’, the longest song on the album, speaks of how we as humans tend to have control of our lives, and that the best we can do is know that often, where we wanna head isn’t necessarily the best thing, that the One who shaped us and formed us knows best. Knowing that, we ought to let the Lord drive our lives, as this song uses the metaphor of driving a car as an analogy of us giving control back up to the Lord and living life not worried about where Christ is taking us, but living fully in the present as awe and wonder take over as we marvel at the things God has in store for us in the grand scheme of things. The EP rounds out with the Mac Powell duet, ‘I’m Still Here’, sung from the Lord’s point of view, as we’re reminded that God is still present even when we believe He’s absent. This is a song sung in a moment of utter chaos and despair, sort of like a Casting Crowns ‘Oh My Soul’ moment. And to hear Mac, ex-lead singer of Third Day (the band broke up mid 2018), sing with Karyn gives me hope that Mac will continue music in the future, be it in the country music genre or continuing singing songs about Jesus, Christ and life and the rest of it. A gripping and soul-impacting melody, ‘I’m Still Here’ has quickly become one of my favourite songs in September 2018!
Karyn Williams’s third musical offering is a long time coming (3 years… as was the wait between the first and second albums), yet the wait is well worth it, as the diversity of Blame It On the Hope continues to assert Karyn’s relevance in a CCM industry that is continuously evolving. Artists come and go, and sometimes artists that make a big splash with a debut album sometimes fall into oblivion. So to travel through the sophomore slump with such grace and emotion, and then onto the third project with such buoyancy and hope that is presented in this new album is a feat in and of itself. From re-release ‘Enough For Me’ and the Mandisa cover ‘These Days’, to the title track and the Mac Powell duet ‘I’m Still Here’, this is an album (or is it a long EP?) worthy to be placed within my top ‘out-of-the-box’ and ‘most intriguing’ albums of 2018 so far. Kudos to Karyn for such an encouraging and emotive album, and for releasing within a week of other prominent releases, from artists like Blanca, Jason Gray, Mosaic MSC, Zach Williams, Rivers and Robots, Branan Murphy and Carrie Underwood to name a few; Karyn’s surprising release is one to savour and take notice of, as this ever-reliable pop-CCM artist, while not on a label, still is one of CCM’s most underrated voices and treasures. Here’s hoping that through hearing this album for first-time listeners, Karyn’s reach and influence can increase in the upcoming months and years ahead! Well done Karyn for Blame it on the Hope, certain to be on repeat on my iTunes playlists as the months progress. Can’t wait to a full length album release, whenever that arises…maybe an all-acoustic or remix album in the future?
And so, let us end with a quote from Karyn herself from the bio page on her official facebook page, that sums up what she wants to be about, but also, what I reckon we as all Christians ought to aspire to be as well- I am a “smile big, love loud, go all in” kind of girl, and I don’t really know how to do things halfway. Maybe it was being raised in a professional sports family, maybe it was having 11 brothers, or maybe it’s just the way I was wired from the beginning…I don’t know. But I do know that life is short, our time here is precious, and that God did not create us for mediocre. I believe that even when life throws us tough stuff, God is still good and I’ve seen Him weave some of the most difficult situations into something absolutely beautiful. So I no longer roll my eyes at Romans 8:28 😉 but instead trust that He has a reason for everything He allows us to walk through, and that He can and WILL work it all together for good. I’m passionate about Jesus, people and music — in that order, and I usually “High 5” everyone I meet without even thinking because I believe in trying to be everyone’s cheerleader & encourager. I see no purpose in tearing eachother down, and I’m a firm believer that we rise by lifting others. At the end of my life, there’s really only one thing I want said about me: “She did everything she could to point people to Jesus.”
3 songs to listen to: I’m Still Here, These Days, Drive
RIYL: Natalie Grant, Rebecca St. James, Amy Grant, Avalon, Point of Grace