The Grace of Holly Williams

Holly Williams 4

Let me use Holly Williams as a way to explain how I think about art.

Holly Williams is easily my favorite singer-songwriter to emerge in the last ten years. Her debut album was released in 2004, an album which held enormous promise, but it lacked a certain vividness that compels the listener to not only enter into her world but to re-enter one’s own world. This combination is basically my definition of a good singer-songwriter. Holly’s early promise was realized in her 2009 follow-up, Here With Me, with songs like “Mama” and “Without Jesus Here With Me.” At this point, introspection is in the service of life — something greater than us and something beautiful — not life in the service of introspection.

Holly’s joy is not cheap, much less contrived for the sake of eliciting a transitory emotional attachment. There is emotion to be sure, lots of it, but its origin — its wellspring or fountain, to be more poetic — is beyond oneself. It is in one’s family, a favorite theme for Holly, or the love of a spouse or in the bitter sorrows of a friend suffering from alcohol addiction. When the song’s theme is grief, it is never morose, never indulgent. In other words, Holly teaches us how to live. That is what a great artist does. That is what art does. Even though only a few of her songs will explicitly reference her Christian faith, grace is everywhere. This allows her to trust life.

The “promise” of which I have spoken about Holly Williams was fully realized in her 2013 release, The Highway. The accolades for this album have been appropriately enthusiastic, though mainstream country radio has predictably ignored it, with a few exceptions. Those of us who care about the dignifying importance of music, and art in general, should not ignore it. The lead track for the album, “Drinkin’,” was released as a music video, and most recently she did a video for the title track, “The Highway”:

This is a simple and lighthearted song, which is perfectly balanced while set beside the more “serious” songs like “Waiting on June,” the best song on the album.


    • Glad you liked it. And, yes, art and artists are vital for teaching us how to live. And, therefore, art is part of the gospel, whether or not the artist is fully aware.

  1. C.S. Lewis had similar thoughts on art – it took me a while to grasp just exactly how he could argue that something like ‘beauty’ isn’t just a subjective feeling, but a real ‘thing’ – the ‘beyond itself’ is the key.

    • I owe a lot to Lewis. Most of my concepts for understanding aesthetics have come from Lewis and Balthasar, and more recently Roger Scruton, a fascinating and eclectic philosopher.

      • Scruton is awesome – my next book purchase is going to be ‘The Soul of the World’. He does have his ‘CLASSICAL IS THE ONLY GOOD MUSIC, THE HELL WITH ROCK AND ROLL’ moments though :p

      • Ha, yes, he does! I can forgive him for that, because his honest and thoughtful elitism is endearing to me.

      • Also, re the OP, this young lady is outstanding. Have you heard of Rachel Brooke? Fairly different than this kind of music – her most recent album is oldschool rockabilly that’s really, really chill. You might enjoy her – look for ‘Old Faded Memory’, my favourite track of hers.

      • Thanks, I hadn’t heard of her before. I just listened to some of her songs on YouTube, and that’s some serious talent! I couldn’t even describe the genre — sort of flavoring all the old Southern blues/country/jazz/rock circa 1930’s-50’s.

      • Yeah, she’s very talented. You might also enjoy Brown Bird (a good song is Fingers to the Bone), The Handsome Family (Far From Any Road), William Elliot Whitmore (Sorest of Eyes), and Graham Lindsey (any of his stuff is great).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s