Holt Vaughn’s These Songs, Vol. 1
I’m not religious in any way and found Holt Vaughn’s These Songs, Vol. 1 to be a refreshing, affirmative, and optimistic listen. He’s invited a bevy of his contemporaries in Christian music to help flesh out the potential in this twelve song set and they make an enormous impact without ever overshadowing Vaughn’s talents. There’s plenty there. He has the near uncanny gift for bringing the personal and ethereal together with impressive results. It helps these songs sink in deeper than they would otherwise as he connects himself to us via our common humanity; Vaughn, even at his most eloquent moments, is always accessible.
He places his art in the context of his everyday life during “These Songs” with subtlety. The musical backing and lyrics alike are deceptively straight-forward with the former achieving a rollicking weave that inspires Vaughn’s singing. He delivers these lines one after another with great verve, but he’s careful to tailor his singing to serve the music. It’s characteristic of the album.
You hear it too when he brings us guest stars. Guitarist Will McFarlane joins Vaughn for the album’s second track “Woman of Light” and the cut does an excellent job of balancing the individual contributions to make an even greater song. His sound is rough and ready without ever veering into overkill. “Sparkle In Your Eye” raises the stakes bringing Rick Cua and Phil Keaggy into the fray. Cua continues making his mark every year in the contemporary Christian music community and Phil Keaggy has a long reputation as a virtuoso guitar player and composer.
This union of the past, present, and future is an underrated strength. Vaughn continues putting exclamation points on that part of his presentation with the following trio of songs. “David Song”, among them, is my favorite, but “Tulsa, Oklahoma” and “Bitter Suite” are album high points as well. The first track lowers the boom on listeners with the album’s heaviest guitar work by far, but it’s far from an one note affair. Most importantly, however, it’s convincing.
“Tulsa, Oklahoma” is Vaughn’s take on classic blues with Will McFarlane at his side again and goes so far as to embrace its traditional song structure. It doesn’t sound hokey, however, as it isn’t a literal adaptation of the form – anyone familiar with blues will notice him stretching things out. Acoustic guitar dominates the instrumental “Bitter Suite” and we’re treated to another side of Phil Keaggy’s skills.
“Hello Rain” surprised me. I didn’t really expect to find such a beguiling track this deep into the release and the song’s melodic charms are among These Songs’ most memorable moments. It rises to some of the most dramatic heights on this collection, as well, thanks to the crashing electric guitar inevitably making its presence felt. There isn’t a single miss on Holt Vaughn’s latest release and he’s already planning a Volume 2 successor. Any music fan should welcome such releases with open arms, no matter what they believe, if they place any value on what great music brings to us all.