Release Date: January 27th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Find You Here
- He Will
- Red Sea Road
- You are Loved
- Fighting Words
- I Will Never Be the Same
- Wonderfully Made
- We’ve Got This Hope
- You Love Me Best
- God of All Comfort
- Living Water
- Man of Sorrows
Ellie Holcomb is no stranger to Christian music. Since making her debut album in 2014 titled As Sure as the Sun and receiving the honours of being the New Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards in October 2014; Ellie’s honest approach to writing music in a similar vein to that of either Brooke Fraser, Sara Groves and Nichole Nordeman has led me to appreciate much of her previous work. With Ellie’s music firmly planted within the folk/acoustic/worship arena, it is when we hear Ellie’s heartfelt moments of “Find You Here” of the equally moving yet surprisingly short “God of All Comfort” that we can really appreciate what a great lyricist she is, creating songs that have an impact beyond what has been written for the church as years have gone by. Ellie has joined, in my opinion, a group of artists that have somehow been able to present to us songs of lyrical ingenuity and poignancy, creating moments where vulnerability is not only celebrated but brought to the fore in a variety of the songs, along us to feel encouragement, hope and a whole lot of emotion, as Ellie’s music is one that ought to be listened by anyone who can appreciate music with artistic depth yet never shying away from God being at the centre. With As Sure as the Sun funded through kickstarter, we’ve waited three years for this Full Heart Music signee to release new music, and while it has been a little on the longer side, I guarantee you that one listen of the album from first note to last, and you know that it has been worth the wait.
With Ellie’s music certainly grouped within a plethora of artists (Steven Curtis Chapman, Jason Gray, Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Jars of Clay, Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, Caedmon’s Call and Derek Webb) that each have the unique knack of creating a song that allows us to delve deep within ourselves and confront our innermost dark moments and delve into the truths spoken over us by God Himself; my respect for Ellie and her music as continued to grow through the listening of As Sure As the Sun and now Red Sea Road. Mostly delivering a musical backdrop of acoustic guitars, light electrics and a heavy keyboard presence, alongside her soothing trademark vocals; Ellie’s heartfelt song writing is a great asset for the album, one that has become one of my favourites of 2017, along with Zach Williams’ Chain Breaker, Grayson Reed’s Walk and KJ-52’s Jonah! Ellie, wife of singer/songwriter Drew Holcomb and daughter of producer Brown Bannister, has given us a moment of sincere enjoyment in Red Sea Road, taking us all on a journey of discovery and revelation, of encouragement and excavation, and whose music is enough to allow us listeners at least one listen if we long for more of a reflective music atmosphere, or if we want to enjoy something unique and different, compared to the endless CCM (sad but true) that has been currently played on both Air1 and K-Love.
‘… I wrote “Find You Here” a few days after this profound experience of God’s peace [in light of Dad’s cancer announcement]. We actually recorded the vocal for the song the day my dad went in for a major and very important surgery. He came out of the operating room, and I was there with a little MP3 on my iPhone, and he and mom and I wept at God’s kindness, to continue to draw near to us in a hospital room when we didn’t know how things would turn out. My prayer is that whoever you are and whatever you are facing, that you would be encouraged to lift your hands and “Rejoice!” And that as you rejoice, you’d be reminded of His faithfulness. Because, no matter what mess you are in the middle of, “the Lord is near”. His heart is breaking with yours, and His healing is coming for you as you lift your heart and your hands to rejoice in who He is and what He’s already done for you…’ Seeing the thought processes behind creating “Find You Here”, the first radio single from the album, makes me appreciate the song all the more, and be reminded that in whatever situation, we can always find God present- it may not always be as grandiose as we’d want it to be, but nevertheless, He’s there.
Ellie, through acoustic guitar riffs, presents not a sad song, but a joyful and hopeful one, full of encouragement as we know that in spite of everything that we’re feeling in a certain moment, God is there- He may not always be taking the affliction away, even though we know God is definitely capable of miraculous healings, but He always uses whatever comes our way, regardless of the ending (happy or sad), to grow us in ways unimaginable so that we can continue to rely on Him for our source of strength, hope and happiness. While the song personally is inspired by Ellie’s father’s cancer ordeal, this song can be applicable for a variety of circumstances where we may feel like there’s no way out. And “Find You Here” can hopefully be an avenue out for many who listen, as Ellie brings to us quite possibly one of the most enjoyable yet equally hard-hitting and poignant 1st songs on an album I’ve heard ever since Tenth Avenue North’s “Afraid” from their most recent album Followers.
While “Find You Here” anchors the album musically and thematically, the rest of the songs on Red Sea Road build around the central theme that God will indeed lead us through circumstances that we can deem to be too difficult by earthly standards, even parting the seas for us to walk on the road that is shown to be visible underneath all the waves that crash upon us at various times during our lives. Potential radio single “He Will”, even more CCM-esque than “Find You Here”, encourages us with the message that the God who is the God of the universe will indeed come through with all the promises He has spoken over our lives, that He will indeed follow through on everything He has said our lives were going to be. A joyous song as we sing alongside Ellie with a renewed spirit knowing that He fulfils what He says; “He Will” segues into the title track, a more stripped down acoustical number that is all about the promises that God has spoken over our lives, from birth till now. Not as vibrant of musically unique as the two previous tracks, Ellie nevertheless encourages with this track, with the song being written ‘…to remind our souls that God is with us. He is faithful. He goes before us. He goes behind us. He fights for us. We can trust that He will bring us through even the most unbearable moments because God is in the business of making a way when there is no way…’ Amazing, isn’t it?
Ellie also presents light acoustic/CCM driven “You Are Loved”, a song with hopefully universal appeal about us being unconditionally loved no matter the circumstance, as well as “Fighting Words”, a poetic moment where we as Christians are to fight the lies spoken over us with the truth- the words of Jesus through either the Bible or encouraging words via people we meet. The themes of encouragement keep coming, from the acoustic guitar prominent “We’ve Got This Hope” that tells us all that we have a hope far greater than anything else that this world can conjure up, to “You Love Me Best”, a piano and percussion only slow ballad that invites us all into the truth that God knows us best- even better than our earthly parents. It is the chorus of the track that speaks to me a lot, as Ellie declares that ‘…when darkness hems me in, You’ll be right where You’ve always been, closer than the heart within my chest, because You love me best…’, a lyric line we all have to reflect upon in the upcoming months ahead. The raw and honest “Wonderfully Made” is indeed one of the most poignant and uniquely crafted songs on the album, and is by far one of the most artistic songs I’ve come across from Ellie- drawing inspiration from the Psalms as string instruments and acoustic guitars accentuate a song that reminds us all that we are wonderfully made by our Creator- so how do we reconcile that truth with what we’ve been hearing from everyone else in our day to day lives? “I Will Never Be the Same” is yet another song that is a personal standout (what can I say, I have a lot of personal standouts!), as this acoustic song with a hint of country undertone, asserts to us all that in light of the resurrection, we all as Christians ought to be different- never the same compared to our old lives before. This song is a catalyst hopefully, as we look deep within ourselves and see if we are indeed never the same compared to our old lives before- and what we’d need to undertake if that is not the case.
“God of All Comfort”, “Rescue” and “Living Water” are all great songs from Ellie, and while I know they all come from a place of sincere hearts, I myself found them to be a little cliché (especially “Rescue”- I need a rescue, I need a reckoning, from all the things I’ve done and have been done to me), and oddly short- I thoroughly enjoyed “Living Water” but once I got into it, the track finished…why oh why did that song have to be only 2:32? Still, as a package, these three aforementioned songs are still good, they just have little quirks, compared to the other songs near the beginning. “Man of Sorrows” rounds out the 13 songs, and while a tad on the longer side, Ellie makes up for it by presenting a song of comfort and reflection, as this quasi-worship track full of acoustics and light keyboard presence gives us a moment of heart and hope, as we are reminded very much of God’s faithfulness over the years. A song that, while it won’t necessarily be for me- I myself enjoy more vibrant and energetic songs than “Man of Sorrows”, I’m still sure that someone else out there will be inspired by the song- and hopefully the rest of them, on Red Sea Road!
Coming off the heels of quite possibly one of the most successful debut CCM albums to be released in 2014 (As Sure as the Sun), Ellie’s sophomore album is also one to behold, as with her first. Moving and encouraging, emotive and powerful, Ellie’s songwriting has allowed me to continue to assert her inclusion within a group that I reckon has become some of the pinnacle of singer/songwriters (Bebeo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Nichole Nordeman to name a few, and now enter into that group, Ellie Holcomb). Music is not a stranger to Ellie- her father is well known producer Brown Bannister, so I guess music has been in her blood for a while. But to see her flourish and deliver such honest music (when frankly, to deliver honest music without compromising on artist integrity can seem a little difficult within the music industry) has made me enjoy Ellie’s music all the more. Red Sea Road is not your typical CCM album with a lot of pop-rock influences, rather it is more of an acoustic/singer-songwriter type…and that’s ok. From the first radio single “Find You Here” to the potential radio single #2 “He Will” and the universally appreciated “Wonderfully Made”, this is a must have if you enjoy singer-songwriters, or if you enjoy acoustic/indie, or even both. Even fans of Ellie’s previous material or lovers of CCM (like myself) ought to check out this album, and maybe, just maybe, you’d find, like me, an album that will hopefully become one of your favourites of 2017 when the year comes to a close in 11 months’ time!
3 songs to listen to: Find You Here, Wonderfully Made, I Will Never Be The Same
RIYL: Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Jason Gray, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson