For a relatively obscure artist, singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb has made her presence known in a big, yet somehow unassuming way, but it's no surprise considering her deep roots in Nashville's music scene. Some would know of her father, acclaimed CCM producer Brown Bannister, while others may recognize her role in her husband's band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, a musical diversion from her teaching career that became a seven-year run on the road. And yet, her own solo endeavors speak for themselves. Her two EPs Magnolia and With You Now rose to the top of iTunes Christian and Gospel chart with no promotion budget or big label support, and a Kickstarter campaign for her first full-length record was funded and exceeded in days.
All that to say, if you haven't heard of Ellie Holcomb yet, keep watching and soon enough you will, but not by the force of an industry marketing machine. There's a lot to love about her unapologetically faith-filled and charmingly quirky folk-pop sound. Her debut, As Sure as the Sun, blends the best of the indie songwriter style with timeless truth that doesn't come off trite or forced. It's an album that doesn't demand your attention, but quietly earns it by pointing to something lasting.
Holcomb sings with a mix of raspy earthiness and earnest sweetness--think a blend of Brooke Fraser's hushed introspection, Audrey Assad's ethereal style, and Katie Herzig's indie cool, adapting well to whatever song she takes on. The music itself is just as varied, whether taking on folk-tinged colors of slide guitar in "Night Song," playing in bright piano pop fields in "The Broken Beautiful," or settling into a soulful, almost country twang in closing track "I Wanna Be Free." Overall, it's a sparsely produced record that lets the songwriting itself take the lead.
Lyrically, this is as straightforward as it comes. Holcomb's writing finds its roots firmly in Scripture, building the original lyrics around a seed of a well-known verse. Maybe that's what makes these songs feel somewhat familiar right away. On the first listen, they don't seem all that remarkable, but in time they can give even the most over-quoted inspirational poster verses a breath of new life. One such standout is "Love Never Fails." While many a CCM song has riffed on 1 Corinthians 13, and the "love chapter" has gotten lots of sentimental treatment at weddings, Holcomb's charming voice backed with sprightly piano turn it into a prayer for God's help to live like the ideal is true. Another notable track is "The Valley," one of the first Scripture-based songs she wrote, that aches with longing and promise. Like the Psalms, despair and hope intertwine in the best moments, and turn it into something beautiful.
This isn't the kind of album that demands attention, nor is it an obscurely groundbreaking one. In fact, on the surface, it feels like another poppy indie folk record. But like the words from the Bible that she uses for her raw writing material, Ellie Holcomb's songs have a way of gently sneaking into your heart after a while.- Review date: 2/16/14, written by Jen Rose of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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