Release Date: November 1st 2022
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Sounding Joy
- Glad Tidings
- Christmas Medley!
- Jingle Bells
- Emmanuel, God With Us
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- Peace On Earth / Silent Night
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… well, that’s 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… or maybe to name a lot!), 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. We should be listening to these artists, above any other artist who predominately sing about the here and now, and any other 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 artists I’ve heard in a while. Ellie Holcomb released her revealing, transparent and vulnerable album Canyon last year; and this year, she is back with a Christmas EP, titled Sing: Christmas Songs.
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 and 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- it’s the third installment in a trilogy that stretches back to Sing: Creation Songs and Sing: Remembering Songs. Yes, this new Christmas EP is a ‘children’s’ EP and a project with probably too many cliché lyrics and CCM-esque music. But… there’s still something about this EP that makes it stand out amongst the Christmas releases of now and yesteryear. Sure, the sing-along stuff that I used to listen to when I was a kid when my attention span was shorter- well, that isn’t my preferred type of music now. And while I myself have grown up and am not part of that target audience anymore; it’s nonetheless still evident that Ellie’s music, and this holiday EP about Jesus’ birth, 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.
My book and album were inspired by the song ‘Joy to the World,’ and it’s an invitation to sing about the hope we have because God put skin on and moved into the neighborhood. I hope these songs will invoke dancing in the kitchen while you bake Christmas cookies and storytelling of the very best kind. I hope it will help kids ponder what joy sounds like and the reason we can have joy no matter what we’re facing.
Joy sounds like the voices of my friends and family in my home while I’m preparing a meal. It sounds like my kids singing happily in their room together or like carols and bells and laughter and water running. It sounds like It’s A Wonderful Life playing in the background and Charlie Brown Christmas and Linus reading the most wonderful of stories that came true in real life… the magic of knowing we are never alone, and of hearing that message ring true over and over again in all the songs we sing at Christmas. We have a reason to sing, a reason to hope. Love gets the final word. Glad tidings of GREAT JOY!
Opening the track list with the vulnerable and powerful original Christmas melody “Sounding Joy”, this inspiring, poignant, and powerful track is inspired by and based on Ellie’s new children’s Christmas book Sounding Joy. The heartfelt, heart-warming, and joyful track speaks about the concept of true joy, and the fact that we as people celebrate the real reason for joy whenever we celebrate Jesus coming the earth as a baby in a manger during Christmas. A jovial, cheerful, and optimistic track- and a song that we can declare out loud with passion; Ellie sings out the biblical truth that there is ‘…glad tidings! Great Joy! We are never alone, God sent His Son to make heaven our home, so every Christmas, each girl, and each boy could lift up their voice and repeat sounding joy…’. Following on from the opener, this joyous experience (no pun intended!); is an equally engaging high-energy melody called “Glad Tidings”. A 2-minute original which could be viewed as an extension to “Sounding Joy”; Ellie eloquently reminds us of the truth that Jesus Christ is born and we can and should praise Him forevermore simply because of this reason.
The rest of the EP, while sounding semi-childish musically (though not in a terrible way at all, but in a way that’s different- neither good nor bad!), still speaks about the truth of Jesus Christ, and still inspires us to sing along to these tracks: they definitely keep you in the Christmas spirit! “Christmas Medley”, is an acoustic guitar drive joyful medley where Ellie covers refrains of “Deck The Halls”, “Let It Snow”, “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”, and “Joy To The World”; while the moving and toe-tapping “Jingle Bells” is covered here also, complete with a jazz atmosphere musical interpretation. “Emmanuel God Is With Us”, one of the EP standouts, is an original melody that is almost like a worship song, with Ellie crying out that ‘…in the memories that we’re making, in the laughter that we hear, even when we feel downhearted, in the stillness You are near, in the carol choir singing, in the middle of the breaking bread, all the joy that the earth is shouting, echoes what the angels said, Emmanuel, God is with us, oh, Emmanuel, God is with us…’; while “O Come All Ye Faithful”, one of my favourite carols ever, is beautifully and skillfully recorded here- Ellie’s expertise in these types of acoustic type albums is one of the best, because I still feel inspired even though folk music isn’t really the type of genre I immediately gravitate to. Sing: Christmas Songs then ends with the reflective and contemplative original song “Peace On Earth”, combined with “Silent Night”- potentially one of the most overplayed carols ever.
With the critical and commercial acclaim of Red Sea Road, Sing: Creation Songs, Sing: Remembering Songs and Canyon; 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 Christmas EP 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 EP is too folk/americana/jazzy and not poppy enough. And I somewhat agree. 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 Sing: Christmas Songs to anyone who wants to listen. So well done Ellie for changing my perception of folk/americana music much more than before- this EP is one of my favourite Christmas releases 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 live album?
3 songs to listen to: Sounding Joy, Emmanuel God With Us, O Come All Ye Faithful
RIYL: Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Jason Gray, Sara Groves, Andrew Peterson