These Songs, Vol. 1 is one half Christian all-star album and another half solo release. Holt Vaughn is, of course, the common denominator in the release’s twelve songs, but the album’s concurrent aim of pairing the Christian music talent with some of his most skillful peers pays off as work representative of the genre as a whole.
One shouldn’t ignore its solo aspects, however. The album opener and title song is nothing less than a statement of purpose, but it puts on a relaxed face for listeners. Vaughn builds many of his songs around a blues foundation and this is no exception, but it isn’t a purist vision of the form. He uses it instead as a launching pad or vehicle for conveying his message.
Perhaps a better label for his general musical tilt is Americana. He does branch out, however, such as the traditional gospel vocal harmonies powering the third song “Unchained (Let My Spirit Be)” and it’s a credit to both his genuineness and skill that it never strikes a false note. Some listeners may come to Vaughn’s music cynical about songwriting on religious themes, but Vaughn comforts you quick. This song packs an emotional wallop rather than sounding stagy and forced.
“Sparkle in Your Eye” introduces Phil Keaggy’s talents on this album. Another important artist associated with the Christian genre, Rick Cua, figures in prominently as well. Most fans of this style, however, will need no specific introduction to Keaggy, the prodigiously skilled guitarist whose genius fueled the pioneering Christian rock act Glass Harp during their 1970’s heyday. This song, however, is one part acoustic beauty and another part mid-tempo roots rocker. It has a muscular stride during those moments that many listeners will like.
It isn’t difficult imagining this material flourishing in a live setting. Even “Bitter Suite”, an acoustic blues instrumental with a bit of a jazzy vibe, would make for a satisfying setlist interlude. Keaggy contributes his talents once again and his playing sparkles. “Hello Rain” shouldn’t be overlooked despite its late placement on the album because this is arguably Vaughn’s finest fusion of different styles into an individual musical statement. The chorus is one of the best on These Songs, Vol. 1, and prods you to re-listen.
Some of the tempos and textures on the album’s songs have a familiar yet unusual quality. It’s hard to place. The production gives the songs rough-hewn authenticity without ever laying any fake production tricks on the music; everything sounds lived-in, somehow. “A Thing Like That” has that sort of aura from the first note onward and Vaughn’s singing matches it every note of the way. It’s considered a cliché, perhaps, but there’s something for everyone on this release and you don’t need to be a church-goer to appreciate its charms and rewards.
“Where You Are” underlines that. Listeners can hear this song in all kinds of ways probably and that’s part of its beauty. At its heart, however, it’s a dialogue between two deeply engaged voices “conversing” about a transformative presence in their lives. It’s an appropriate way to end this powerful release on the right emotional note. It’s hard to imagine we’ll be here many efforts more balanced than this in 2022.
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