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.