Ellie Holcomb “As Sure as the Sun” Review…
A Must-Have Album
The easiest way for me to describe Ellie Holcomb’s new album, As Sure as the Sun — which will be released tomorrow (Tuesday, 2/18,14) and can be pre-ordered on iTunes — is by looking to the luminous words of A.W. Tozer. There is a book called The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer that is possibly one of the great works of modern Christian thought. In its opening pages, Tozer writes:
…come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
Ellie’s new album is a beautifully rendered musical portrait of a soul desperately pursuing God, and then running headlong into Him, face-to-face, in the pages of His Word. The imagery of light triumphing over darkness also has a constant presence: besides the title track, for example, the celebratory song “Marvelous Light” shakes the earth with pure joy and gives you the sense of finally escaping a pitch black dungeon and walking into a wide open space on a sunny day — and then, like a kid on the first day of summer, dancing and jumping up and down with abandon.
There is great joy and victory on this album.
But it’s the real kind. The costly kind — the kind that only comes from dark nights of the soul that force a person to cling to God because He has truly become their only hope. And, honestly, that is the safest place we could ever be on this earth, even though it often comes through great sorrow. If I were to give that place a name, it would be At-The-End-Of-Ourselves. Once we reach the end of our rope and finally lean on Him with our full weight, it is then we suddenly experience freedom — as Ellie describes in the soulful closing track “I Wanna Be Free.”
And then there’s “My Portion and My Strength.” I could easily put this song on repeat and just let it run — or soar, more accurately, as the melody takes flight so effortlessly. The production, songwriting, and performance on this track is a perfect example of the adage “Less is more”: the sparse pitter patter brushes on the drums, the delicate acoustic guitar weaving major seventh chords with a sort of restrained urgency, the secondary guitar tracks quietly plucking harmonics, and Ellie’s voice floating and hovering over all of it with words like: “Help me to stand on the promise that You’re holding my right hand, / Help me to know that even when I lose my grip You won’t let go, / Help me believe that You will be my portion and my strength.”
That line of lyric captures another prominent theme on this album, and it adds an addendum to my opening description. Yes, the album captures the journey of a soul chasing after God and “apprehending Him” with joy as Tozer has written elsewhere, but the album is also about standing on a solid foundation of God’s promises by faith — even when the emotions or warm fuzzies of sensing God near are not present in the seasons of great trial. As Ellie so candidly and earnestly shared in her interview with me a few days ago, sometimes our emotions and our heart’s ability to believe don’t always comply with what we know to be true. Sometimes we doubt. Sometimes we forget. Any saint who is honest will admit having experienced those moments where we lift our eyes to our Good Shepherd and whisper, “help my unbelief.” Sometimes no matter how hard we try, the darkness is still getting to us and we’re not feeling God’s presence. Saint John of the Cross wrote about that journey in his classic Dark Night of the Soul. Tracks like “The Valley” and “Only Hope I’ve Got” further explore these themes with pristine melodies and songwriting — always ending with a conclusion of hope even after the sorrow and doubt, just as David did whenever he reached the end of a psalm.
The opening track “As Sure as the Sun” — a solo piano prayer that haunts and swells with brokenness and child-like trust — expresses that tipping point, that moment of breakthrough in the “dark, in the doubting, when you can’t feel anything” when suddenly a light breaks through and your heart finally realizes that “Oh His love remains the same, as sure as the sun will rise” — as the song says.
In the midst of these emotionally intense and heavy themes, there are tracks that balance the weightiness with a fun, jovial spirit — playful and triumphant, the way you imagine Heaven to be after God has wiped every tear. I’m especially thinking of the tracks “The Broken Beautiful,” “Love Never Fails,” and “Marvelous Light.”
Jesus taught that you can know the hidden inner reality of something by looking at the outer fruit that it produces. After listening to this album I was experiencing a deep refreshment in my walk with God, and that continues to happen the more I listen to these songs. The good fruit was immediate. When God places His Word in something, it never returns void. If there’s one album you buy in 2014, do yourself a favor and pick up As Sure as the Sun. God will use it in your life, and He will refresh you — just like in Hosea 6:3:
“Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”