Within the context of the catalog of work involving Kevin Max, from dc Talk on, Cotes d’ Armor conjures up the image of a summer blockbuster action hero calmly lighting a cigarette while the scene in the background explodes in a gasoline hellfire blaze. The palpable hints of Depeche Mode’s VIOLATOR, PRETTY HATE MACHINE by Nine Inch Nails, and Moby’s ANIMAL RIGHTS, combined with Max’s unique knack for mixing colors has yielded a tour de force of a concept album that will hold its own against the test of time. While this will not be mistaken for anything remotely close to the products most recently put out by his former cohorts TobyMac and Michael Tait (Newsboys) it should be said that Cotes d’ Armor is the one product that is not restricted by the pop Christian-lite confines of Nashville and, subsequently, will still be revered long after the fad-based veneers that so many others exploit have faded. This is by far, as a whole, Kevin Max’s best album. Get it and settle in for a long trip.
I happened upon the music of singer/songwriter Heather Williams purely by accident, but, I was hooked instantly. After hearing her unmistakably sincere voice on the individual tracks that were released on iTunes some time ago, the question of why she didn’t have more of a promoted presence in the music world immediately surfaced. Since then, however, she has signed with INO Records (Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Skillet, MercyMe, etc.) and just recently released her debut EP on the INO label at iTunes. The four tracks featured on the EP showcase her range and ability from the sassy, soulful, groove of “Beautiful Thing” to the anthemic beauty of “Hallelujah” and the moving sincerity of “Holes.” The EP then closes out with a glittering pure pop track called “This Time Around.”
“Hallelujah” is a confessional and celebratory song that starts small, but, builds in presence until crossing a dramatic musical threshold toward the end. Lyrically it begins with recognition of humanity and our need for grace. But, the ultimate message is that, despite fact that we struggle and fumble through our daily existence making mistake after selfish mistake, God’s unconditional love for us still calls.
“Holes” is a piano-driven track that exhibits the pop sensibility of Williams while also showcasing her soulful voice. Like the lyrics in “Hallelujah,” “Holes” communicates the experience of someone who has humbly realized her human limitations and, as a result, opened herself to the hope of something much bigger.
“Beautiful Thing” is the track that hit me immediately as an infectious, gutsy, whimsical pop groove. Its terribly catchy and one can’t help, but, to nod, wiggle, toe-tap, or all-out dance while its playing. Its another track that displays the deep soul in the voice of Heather Williams, but, does so with a power and groove that is distinct in comparison with the mellower ambiance of “Holes,” and “Hallelujah.” “Beautiful Thing” seems like the kind of song that should be on the radio and, in airplay on pop-format radio stations, would stand head and shoulders above most of the vanilla, formulaic music that currently dominates radio playlists.
“This Time Around” provides a distinctively pop canvas on which Williams has masterfully painted her story of redemption and the hope that is found in God’s grace. It is a theme common to all four of the songs on the EP, but one that deserves to be showcased as much as possible because it is the hope of our lives.
Heather Williams, amidst the cloud of insincere musicians with watered down goals and wayward objectives in today’s music industry, is an ever so refreshing breath of fresh air. I can honestly and without reservation suggest that, for less than the price of a tall latte, Heather’s new EP is well worth the price. Find it at iTunes.