Capitol Christian Music Group / Full Heart Music
Release Date: June 25th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- I Don’t Want To Miss It
- Paradox (ft. Natalie Hemby)
- Brand New Day
- Sweet Ever After (feat. Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE)
- Mine (feat. Drew Holcomb)
- I Will Carry You
- Gold (feat. Carly Bannister)
Every so often, like once in a blue moon, an artist just grabs you instantly and captivates you from the get-go. Whether it’s a CCM artist or a worship artist or a country artist or a pop artist or a classical/Broadway artist, is in fact immaterial. A once-in-a-generation type artist (including artists in my opinion like John Mayer, Josh Groban, Tenth Avenue North, Needtobreathe, Phil Wickham, Jennifer Nettles, Delta Goodrem, Riley Clemmons, Sofia Carson, MercyMe, Danny Gokey, Owl City and Carrie Underwood to name a few!), only come by once in a generation. Or perhaps a little bit more frequent than that. The point is that these popular and influential artists that tug at your heart and play with your emotions (in a crazy good way!) and confront you with a plethora of questions you might need to examine and answer about yourself, family, friends, love, hate, God, death, the world and everything else in between; are the artists whom I reckon will stand the test of time in 10-20 years. And I firmly believe these are the types of artists we all should be consuming and listening to above any other artist who predominately sing about the here and now, and any artist who plays it musically safe. When I listen to music (and I can only say this for myself and not any other person!), I want to be challenged and to be presented with ideas that can make me grow as a person. I do not want to stay stagnant in my walk with God and my relationships with others. I think that goes for most, if not all, of us. And this brings me to one of the most heartfelt, inspiring, comforting and confronting albums I’ve heard all year, by an artist whom I believe to be ‘once-in-a-generation’. Granted, I’ve only heard these songs for a few days… but can I say that Canyon by Ellie Holcomb is a strong contender for the album of the year?
To be human is to be broken. We all know what it is for our hearts to be split wide open like a canyon by the pain and loss and sorrow, we encounter here. I spent a lot of my life trying to pretend like I wasn’t broken, trying to ignore some of the deepest wounds in my own story and some of the deepest wounds in the world around me, but what I encountered as I began to lean into these broken places was the nearness, kindness, and empathy of God, who sent His son to break for us, so we could know that our brokenness is never the end of the story.
Ellie Holcomb is an artist that we are extremely familiar with. One of the most honest, vulnerable, inspiring and relevant singer/songwriters that I have heard in recent memory, Ellie, wife of singer/songwriter Drew Holcomb and daughter of producer Brown Bannister, is no stranger to Christian music. Ellie released her debut album As Sure As The Sun in 2014, and received the Dove Award for New Artist of the Year that same year. If there’s any other female artist I’d liken her to, it’d be to artists like Nichole Nordeman, Sara Groves and Brooke Fraser, as Ellie’s genre of music places her firmly in the folk/acoustic/worship genre- creating melodies that have multi-layered lyrics as well as captivating and resounding music (which is indeed an art to create in an of itself!). While we as a site reviewed Red Sea Road in 2017– I’ll leave you to read that extensive review of how Jon was moved by the uniqueness of the project and how it’s not your average CCM or worship album, but something akin to what Andrew Peterson, Bebo Norman or Jason Gray would release. So let me just say that on this new release from Ellie, she breaks the boundaries and runs against the grain yet again. Canyon is folk and acoustic- probably even more so than Red Sea Road; and it’s still evident that Ellie’s new album will inspire and provide us with insight about God and the human condition, as she continues to stretch the boundaries of what hopeful, reflective, contemplative and honest music actually sounds like.
A listen to this 12-track hopeful and inspirational album, reveals an artist sure of who she is and unafraid to tell the whole world about her identity in Jesus and her love for Him. Album opener “I Don’t Want To Miss It” is a poppy, acoustic guitar led 3 minute tune, whereby Ellie eloquently relays that she doesn’t want to miss any of God’s presence, His miracles, His providence and His love for us. A reminder that we need to be fully present in our present lives to witness the wonder, mystery and beauty of God and everything He is showing us through creation; the song also encourages us to ‘climb up the sycamore tree’, to be as eager as Zacchaeus in trying to see God and His imprints on our lives. Ellie ardently highlights that the fingerprints of God are everywhere… and instead of being glued to our phones, why don’t we look outside and thank Him for the bird and for the trees. Perhaps if we are still we can hear more of God speaking…
The rest of the album dives deep into simple yet profound concepts that comfort and confront our very being. The title track, a promotional single and released in early April, compares us to being a canyon whereby the river (aka Jesus) can run through and impact our lives, with Ellie passionately creating one of the most joyous and cheerful worshipful songs I’ve heard this year; while “Color” speaks about staleness in one’s walk with God, but then God reinvigorating us so that we see in colour instead of black and white. In essence, this song is a testimony like song, and one of my favourites from Canyon, with Ellie fervently relaying to us that ‘…in the broken sanctuary light, I’m surrendered, I am hypnotized, I can see You even though I’m blind, this world is made of color, in the stained glass church of ordinary life, I’m surrendered, I am baptized, I can hold you like a dandelion ’cause this world is made of color…’. “Bridge”, a heartfelt prayer of admission to God outlining that we feel tired and we want connection with those who may not agree with us on a theological and spiritual level, while God reminds us that we can build a bridge and meet people where they’re at, and can find common ground despite differences; while Ellie and Natalie Hemby team up with the confessional and confronting “Paradox”, whereby we understand the upside-down world that Jesus preached about in the Bible- that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and that the children will inherit the kingdom of God. So often do we try to make ourselves bigger and better and more and more, in order to get to God and to make Him love us more. We’re like the people building the tower of Babel in the Old Testament- but God reminds us time and time again that we don’t have to do any of that stuff. And as we realise that what on the surface would be considered a paradox is actually the best way to live- to love the least of these and to humble yourself before the lowest of the low; that’s where I firmly believe life starts for us. As we show love and gratitude and appreciation for all around us (and I mean everyone!), can we agree that we will feel happier and more satisfied?
“Brand New Day”, a happy-go-lucky heartfelt and passionate 2 minute tune about taking each day as it comes and living life to the full because we have breath in our lungs, is as cheerful and poppy as any song from 2021; while the thought-provoking and lyrically poignant “Sweet Ever After”, sung with Bear Rinehart of Needtobreathe, highlights the fact that even though there are hard times and trials and tribulations in this world, heaven awaits for us in the end, so we have something to look forward to, and reason to keep pressing on and keep fighting the good fight- seeing Jesus and worshipping Him for forever. “Stronger”, a radio friendly ballad that is as inspirational as any song in 2021, reminds us all that we cannot and shouldn’t believe the lies of Satan, as we are more than conquerors, and we are made for sometime bigger than ourselves, with Ellie relaying to us ‘…so fly away my dear, up to the golden sun, don’t build your home right here, you were made for love, worry whispers lies but let the truth be clear, you are stronger, love, you are stronger than your fear…’; while “Mine”, a stirring piano only duet with husband Drew Holcomb, recounts the duo’s love for their children, as we remember that a parent’s love for their child is only a fraction of the infinite love God has for each of us.
“I Will Carry You”, a slower-paced, emotional and honest ballad, is sung from God’s perspective, and vibrantly conveys that He indeed will ‘…carry you, through your darkest night, when you’re terrified, I will carry you, when the waters rise, when your hope runs dry…’, and is a source of comfort and peace as we try to navigate the ups and downs of life; while the acoustic guitar and keys led ballad “Gold”, with Carly Bannister, speaks about Ellie’s unbreakable bond with her husband Drew, and is an inspirational melody that lifts him up, that speaks about the heart of gold that Drew possesses, for Jesus, for his wife and for people. Ending Canyon is “Constellations”, a single released last year and reviewed previously by Jon. And can I say that I agree with Jon’s assessment of the heart-warming album ender, and that this song is one of my favourites of the album?
I felt like I was looking at a living picture of all of our hearts [when I saw the Grand Canyon]. Layer upon layer of loss, hearts split wide open by the pain of it all, but there we were in the deepest part of the canyon being carried by a river. It was also HOT outside, like 110 degrees, but we never got too hot b/c there was this freezing cold water carrying us through the deepest part of that giant crevice in the earth. It struck me as I jumped into the river to cool off for the first time on that trip…there’s a river running through our deepest pain, even in those moments when the chaos of life sends the temperature soaring, there’s an ever-present current of love to cool us down and carry us on when it feels like we just can’t take the heat any longer.
Every time I listen to this record, I want to run… fast! I’m not really a runner, but these songs, born out of a season of a lot of personal and global loss, feel like a soundtrack to healing and hope, and they fire me up! They feel like a rally cry to remember that while we’ve known a deeper sorrow, there’s a higher hope!
With the critical and commercial acclaim of Red Sea Road, Sing: Creation Songs and Sing: Remembering Songs; one could be forgiven if Ellie Holcomb took a bit of a break- however it’s clear with this release that she’s not slowing down, and that her best is maybe yet to come. With every song on the album being standouts in their own way; what I’ve learned through listening to these melodies, is that as long as God is still glorified and listeners lives still have the potential of being changed for the better from listening to these songs- then it doesn’t matter the genre. Some would say that this album is too folk/americana. And I somewhat agree, as there’s only a few pop offerings here. But there’s still a sense of wonder and hope and joy and happiness all throughout these songs- and for this feeling and this sense of home that I have when I listen to the album; for this reason I will gladly recommend Canyon to anyone who wants to listen. So well done Ellie for changing my perception of folk/americana music much more than before- this album is unexpectedly one of my favourites of 2020 thus far, and one that all of us can listen to and be challenged by in terms of our opinions on favourite music types. Whatever Ellie records next, I know I will love. Because she has always exceeded my expectations. So… how about a Christmas album?
3 songs to listen to: Color, I Will Carry You, Constellations
RIYL Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Jason Gray, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson