ALBUM: As Sure As the Sun
ARTIST: Ellie Holcomb
Album release date: February 18, 2014
A Voice of Contentment, a Presence of Balm
“…The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.” This verse from the book of James, chapter 3, comes to mind when I consider the person and music of Ellie Holcomb, a woman who is genuinely gifted and unfettered by self-aggrandizement. Her debut solo album, Sure As the Sun, is an unassuming, simply produced project that reveals its interior gold and strength with each listen: something like the quiet and observant person at the party who actually turns out to be the one with the most confidence and self-awareness, and whose presence acts like balm and security in the midst of noise and chaos.
Who is Ellie Holcomb?
Ellie Holcomb is the daughter of well-known Nashville producer Brown Bannister and spouse of Drew Holcomb (frontman of the band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, with whom she toured for a long stretch of years). Her solo projects – two EPs entitled Magnolia and With You Now and her full-length Sure as the Sun – have been slow-burning gems, gaining dedicated listeners via word-of-mouth and personal connectedness. I first heard of her from a friend years ago when Magnolia came out, but it wasn’t until last winter while on a long drive to St. Louis that I realized just how good she and her husband are, individually and as a couple, upon listening to the album Good Light by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. While Drew’s voice and penmanship are the more prominent of the husband-and-wife duo on that particular project, nonetheless I was taken in by the sound and style of Ellie’s support and harmonization, which add a beauty, warmth, and depth that simply couldn’t have happened without her.
It is her voice that acts as the primary instrument on Mrs. Holcomb’s album Sure As the Sun, a well-produced, straightforward set of songs that pull no flashy punches and centers around common spiritual themes without pandering or becoming saccharine. Holcomb’s voice stands out: it is raspy, gentle, earnest, and imperfect. There are moments when it sounds stylized – certain syllables and consonants drag and dip in unusual ways – but it never comes off sounding pretentious, perhaps because she is so immediately present in her work. The more I dove into her album the more I was inspired by a sense of a person-to-person encounter rather than the more common artist-to-consumer exchange, and it is this aspect of her approach that makes her music so impactful.
The Steady Gaze of Mercy
Holcomb’s style incites this sense of encounter because, as is made evident in her writing, she herself has been encountered. She makes no apologies for her Christian faith, but rather expresses her joy and certainty over the healing and freedom she has experienced in and through the person of Christ. “Mercy called my name and made a way to fly out of darkness and into light,” she sings in Marvelous Light, expressing confidence in the merciful love of God, which is a recurring theme in the album as a whole. Another frequent point of reflection which manifests itself in her writing is the problem of suffering and shame, which can (surprisingly) become the place of our most intimate encounters with God and eventually our greatest strength: our very woundedness can become the place from which we love others most sincerely and deeply, if we first allow God to encounter us in those areas so that His grace can transfigure them. “There in my weakest hour, You offered grace – You offered me love unfailing. So in my heart I will raise a banner high, remembering how You saved me,” we hear on Songs of Deliverance. The more I listened, the more obvious it became that Holcomb is deeply influenced by Scripture – in particular, the psalms; and she has evidently found great consolation in the gamut of human experience and emotion expressed therein. “Now my heart will sing and will not be silenced; for how could I contain the joy You’ve given? How You have given. You took my fears and my shame and You have given me a new name,” she sings in praise in Love Broke Through.
Meat & Potatoes
As Sure as the Sun is simple, sincere, and – at first glance – not ground-breaking in any obvious way. But if you listen to it with an awareness of encounter, and if you leave your brilliance and methodology at the door (that is, if you suspend your ostensibly sophisticated taste), you will likely be surprised at how consoling and edifying it actually is.
Sometimes you need a plain meal of meat and potatoes. Sometimes you need the most basic reminder of God’s fidelity and mercy. And, sometimes you discover that it’s the most elementary lessons you need the most practice in.