For those of you who don't already have the pleasure of knowing who Ellie Holcomb is, let me spoil it now by letting you in on the fact that she's one of the greatest contemporary worship artists working on the scene at the moment. OK so, despite being the textbook example of a loaded sentence, consider this: with only two EP's under her belt, Ellie's colorful debut album As Sure as the Sun charted at number one on the iTunes Christian chart. On top of mothering a newly born daughter (which Ellie has said allowed her to pursue a solo career), she also had the prestige of being donned a Dove Award as their New Artist of 2014.
Even if you don't consider her to be some sort of musical revelation, at the very least we should be wary of ignoring what this obviously talented artist has to offer, especially if it happens to take the form of a newly released album. Skipping forward almost three years later and we see exactly that with the release of Red Sea Road, a proper sophomore attempt to follow up the success of Holcomb's debut. By keeping everything that we have come to love from Ellie (her unmistakable Tennessee accent and vibrant instrumental arrangements come to mind) and expanding to include even richer pop hooks while not forsaking the scriptural influence that has latched itself to her work, we are treated to an album that shows no signs of slowing down the process of musical development so often seen in artists who have peaked after their first few attempts.
This Biblically-infused pop formula shines most brilliantly in the song "Wonderfully Made." At five minutes and twenty seconds, it is the album's longest song and rightfully earns the title of centerpiece by being sandwiched smack-dab in the middle of the thirteen total tracks. Yet, it's not the contextual placement that makes "Wonderfully Made" so extraordinary, so much as it is how it manages to sum up the album's themes of internal pain and the restoration through Christ. Ellie has stated that Red Sea Road came from a place of "...suffering and loss but also peace and joy." By pivoting on Psalm 139's authority of the individual being divinely created in the image of God, Ellie allows the Gospel to form as she proclaims her fallen nature and remedies it with the salvation that the omnipotent Lord brings.
I believe this album to be Holcomb's best work, and in the realm of Christian Contemporary Music, this is one that will be treasured for years to come, but in all seriousness, I can say Red Sea Road irks me, not for what it does but for what it doesn't do. It makes no effort to push beyond the sphere of collective enjoyment and worship anthems. Despite its emotional and genuine spirit, the artistic achievements of past producers and musicians show no mark on here. It's another well-produced and easy to consume musical work that is remarkable because the agricultural fields tended by the Christian market have been so volatile to the land that just about anything produced by someone with Angus Buchan's touch will flourish. I have great faith that Ellie holds the potential to produce something to the equivalent of pop landmarks like Pet Sounds and Merriweather Post Pavillion, but until then, we can rest assured knowing that Red Sea Road will at least stay a pearl treasured in our hearts and a foreigner to the touch of a pig's hoof.- Review date: 1/26/17, written by Bersain Beristain of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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