HST Entertainment LLC
Release Date: July 29th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Beautiful Messes
- Sheltered in the Arms of God
- Safe Haven
- The Faithful Love of Jesus
- The River (Come On Down)
- Thy Will
- Come to Jesus (Untitled Hymn)
- Love Remains
- We March On
- Your Unfailing Love
- Come Thou Fount
- Ain’t No Grave
‘…I think as much as there’s music that’s created and performed to help people escape, it’s important for there to be the other side of that, which are songs that help pull emotions out of you that you try to suppress because sometimes they’re just too hard to feel. I think that’s one of the things that music is for — to uplift, encourage and to make people feel loved. That’s what I want this record to do. I want people who hear this record to know that they’re loved, that they’re not alone and that there’s hope. If you’re feeling afraid, or if you’re worried about tomorrow, put this record on and see if it can break through that fear and just walk into whatever is next with bravery, open arms and an open heart…’ One third of superstar country group Lady Antebellum; Hillary Scott has achieved something to be championed. Only a few artists have attempted to release crossover albums, some with huge success, and others with moderate, so for Hillary to decide to join the small group, now with the release of Love Remains is something of a unique moment for her. And specifically in the mainstream music genre, there have been several artists have decided to consciously release an album where the target audience is for lovers of Christian music.
Brian Littrell, vocalist for the Backstreet Boys, released a CCM album in 2006, only to return to the group a while later. Lead singer for CREED, Scott Stapp, released a Christian rock album in 2013 titled Proof of Life, while lead singer for heavy metal band KORN, Brian Welch, decided to pursue a solo career for a while, becoming a Christian in the process and later returning back to the band with a different mindset and focus. Enter in Hillary Scott, who has decided to release something so personal that it doesn’t even seem like a country-style album at all. With all the reflective moments and poignancy attached to the album and the songs contained with it, Love Remains echoes that of a very well-produced CCM album with a slight country/gospel tinge…not that there’s anything wrong if Hillary ever decided to release a Christian album with heavy southern gospel undertones (like Jason Crabb or Red Roots), yet there’s something about Love Remains that sets the bar high in terms of quality and poignancy. Love Remains is a collection of songs, some of which Hillary wrote herself and others her favourite songs and hymns as the project features not just Hillary, but her mother, father and sister as lead vocalists on certain songs. Even if Hillary Scott & The Scott Family make no more albums together in the future, Love Remains will still be one of my favourites of 2016.
With Hillary’s sound on Love Remains being a cross between that of Natalie Grant, Kari Jobe and Carrie Underwood, gone are the electric guitars that make country music sound like country music. Instead are the beautiful sounds of acoustic guitars and Hillary’s soothing and uplifting voice. In fact, most, if not all of the songs she leads in on the album are full of hope and life, even though a majority of the tracks were borne out of the season of trials, heartbreak and despair (as with any great album from any artist). Yet the result of the season of difficulty for Hillary has created something beautiful- an album that people can be initially drawn into because of the hymns and covers, and still enjoy and fall in love with when it comes to the originally written and recorded tracks. Produced by fellow country superstar Ricky Skaggs (Ricky sung with Carman on his song “Step of Faith” from RIOT back in the day, and also produced Steven Curtis Chapman’s acoustic album Deep Roots); the title track “Love Remains”, a cover of a 1996 Collin Raye track, anchors the album lyrically and thematically as we are met with all four family members sharing the lead, and presenting a message that is universal as it is timeless- that faith and family are at the centre of every situation and circumstance. “The River”, though not an actual cover of Jordan Feliz’s chart topping single, is still written by Jordan (possibly a demo that did not get recorded on his album), and features country singers Sharon and Cheryl White, as Hillary uses stanzas from the hymn “Down to the River to Pray” to encapsulate an ever present theme that is prominent now as it was back when the hymn was written- that everything can be rid of when we are washed in the river of God’s goodness and grace.
Hymn “Come Thou Fount”, is presented with a piano introduction as Hillary sings the melody with such poise and grace, never really straying in rhythmic style compared to the original hymn recording, while artists like Chris Rice (“Come to Jesus”) and David Crowder (“Ain’t No Grave”) are given recognition and representation as Hillary and her family share some of their favourite hymn-like tracks within recent memory. With an acoustic guitar to be the prominent instrument on “Come To Jesus”, this is by far one of Chris’s most popular hits, and for it to appear on Love Remains, 13 years after the song was initially recorded, showcases what it means for a song to be timeless. Even electronic one-man-band Owl City recorded a version of the track not too long ago on his soundcloud account. Crowder’s “Ain’t No Grave” is another cover that is given the Hillary Scott & The Scott Family treatment, with instruments like the banjo being encapsulated in the track to bring some uniqueness to it. Hillary’s father Lang Scott takes the lead on the song, which also features a prelude, also titled “Ain’t No Grave”, this time by Johnny Cash. The transition is seamless, and is a reminder that messages and themes are always the same regardless of the time period. While it was an obscure song to place on Love Remains (“Ain’t No Grave” was never even a single on Neon Steeple), we are nevertheless reminded that sometimes the songs that speak to us the most may not necessarily be the most popular, and in the Scott family’s case, Crowder’s track “Ain’t No Grave” impacted them the most.
Hillary’s mother is the featured singer on “Sheltered In the Arms of God”, a hymn written and sung by the late Dottie Rambo, and delivers the track with much elegance, emotion and encouragement, as this hymn-like song that harkens back to the mid 1950s is a timely reminder that no matter the situation, we are always sheltered, safe and secure in the presence of Jesus; while songs like “We March On” and “Your Unfailing Love” are stylistically the most country out of every track on the album. “We March On” allows Hillary to place on her Carrie Underwood hat, singing about perseverance and how ‘…sometimes we’re in the sun, sometimes we’re in the dark, sometimes life is easy, sometimes it gets so hard, we march on…’; while “Your Unfailing Love” encourages us, amidst the violin, and a turn of Rylee Scott leading the track, to declare our praises to God, giving our thanks to Him for His unfailing love in our lives, often on a daily basis.
With hand claps and Hillary’s soothing voice that dips every so often (not in a bad way) into the southern American accent that is common amongst a lot of country music; “Beautiful Messes” begin the album with much transparency and honesty, and Hillary gives us all a reality check and encourages us to be aware of how we are just ‘beautiful messes’- we’re not perfect, but sometimes God can use the misfits and down-and-outs to create something unique and beautiful for everyone to see. “Still” carries on from “Beautiful Messes” in terms of transparency, and showcases what I reckon would be a potential radio single in the future, as Hillary imparts to us a message of us being still before the Lord and knowing that He has everything in control. Hillary also sings a duet with Steven Curtis Chapman in the acoustically driven “The Faithful Love of Jesus”, as well as opening up to provide a heartfelt song in “Safe Haven”, inspired from the passing of her grandfather in 2011, and how that every moment spent with loved ones ought to be cherished greatly. Yet it is the first radio single from the album, “Thy Will” that is the standout on the album, and a song that I reckon is one of my favourites out of every radio single to be released in 2016 thus far.
Released in April 2016, “Thy Will” (no not a remake of Amy Grant’s song) is as simple as it is poignant. Written out of the personal struggle of Hillary and her miscarriage earlier on in the year, Hillary’s resolve to trust God is shown in the track in the hauntingly refreshing and hopeful chorus words of how ‘…thy will be done…’, a line that speaks so much. To place what we want into the hands of God is to give up everything, our hopes, dreams, failures, successes, everything we want to happen and say ‘Lord, I may not know what will happen, but I’m trusting You that whatever happens, You will still be God, and I will still praise You’. A song that has reminded me through the months of the situation of Job, “Thy Will” is for anyone who is longing for God to speak, in a situation like Hillary and just wanting clarity and reassurance that He is with us in the valley. As spoken by Hillary herself, ‘…this song is my letter to God. As I ask some really hard questions, I hold onto the truth that there is so much to the story of my life that I can’t see, but that I still choose to trust Him. I can feel God telling me that He has work to do on the hearts of people who hear this song. It has been amazing to see the feedback of what people have gone through and what this song means to them. It’s been overwhelming and humbling…’ Well done Hillary for such a comforting and encouraging song, and one of my favourites of 2016 til now!
While seeing phenomenal success as part of Lady Antebellum, from GRAMMY Awards and CMA Awards, to numerous Platinum and Gold Certifications, Hillary decided to use the time that the band took on hiatus to achieve something unique, different, great and at times challenging- she has created an album that is powerful, emotive, comforting, encouraging, worshipful, acoustic…Love Remains is something unexpected, but in a good way. It is an album that puts a smile on your face whenever you listen to it, despite the album being divided in half between original and cover tracks. Fans of Lady Antebellum, even if they don’t listen to the Christian music genre, will be at least intrigued with Love Remains, and that is what I reckon is great about crossover albums. That hopefully listeners may check out more Christian albums, and the purpose of the crossover album is fulfilled. Love Remains hopefully could be an album of many for Hillary, but even if it isn’t, the album is still encouraging and a humbling experience. A certain to be within my top 10 albums of the year, Hillary has outdone herself and has made a masterpiece, one that’ll be enjoyed by many listeners of both Christian and mainstream in months and years to come!
5 songs to listen to: Thy Will, The River, Still, We March On, Beautiful Messes
RIYL: Carrie Underwood, Natalie Grant, Selah, Lady Antebellum, Crowder, Chris Rice