Album Review :
Beth Hazel Farris - EP No. 1

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Artist: Beth Hazel Farris
Title: EP No. 1
Label: Made To Thrive Records
Release Date: 4/15/14
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre

Tracklisting:

  1. Follow Me
  2. I’m Gonna Marry Him
  3. Backyard
  4. Star in the Sky

‘…I write songs about things that are on the tip of my tongue. I was reading and studying the life of Jesus. I was so overwhelmed with His love and kindness that I had to write down the words to “Follow Me”, the song that Grammy-Award winning band Casting Crowns covers on their new album Thrive…’ Beth Hazel Farris. 33. Young mother. Singer. Songwriter. And once again another artist that I have listened to on the say so of a tweet from another artist. This time introduced to me by a random tweet by Mark Hall, encouraging his followers on twitter to check out new and up and coming artist Beth Hazel Farris and her album which released on April 15th, I decided, also on a whim (previously I listened to Lex Anderson’s Undone after Tricia Brock tweeted about it, and I listened to Hillary McBride’s Brave based on a retweet from Heather Schnoor, another indie CCM artist whose album I reviewed in 2012), to check out these four songs. What transpired is something emotive, enjoyable and poignant, with this EP also being one of my favourites of 2014 so far (and not because Mark Hall from Casting Crowns recommended it either). With Beth’s musical influences ranging from motown, disco, country and rock’n’roll, to folk, Americana and bluegrass; we are met with an artist with a wide variety of musical passions and styles, some of which are incorporated on her first EP, simply titled ‘EP No. 1’ (which means there’s already plans to do a second, or even third EP). While I myself may not have known about her or even her music prior to only a few days ago, this introduction to possibly one of the greatest new artist finds of 2014, is certainly one of the most surprising and enjoyable moments of my time of reviewing since 2012. Recently opening for Casting Crowns as part of their acoustic tour in 2013, Beth’s heart to deliver songs of hope, passion, comfort and an array of topics (from motherhood, and love and relationships, to unearned grace and forgiveness), Beth reminds us all through her music where she comes from and what she wants her music to say- ‘…people talk about what they are passionate about. Songwriters write what they are passionate about. I’m a folk singer. I tell stories. I pray people will chew on these words and think and think…’ From ‘Follow Me’ to acoustic driven ‘Backyard’ and the folksy ‘Star in the Sky’; this is certain to be enjoyed and loved by listeners who love folk/acoustic music, akin to music from artists like Audrey Assad, Rend Collective, Casting Crowns or Ellie Holcomb.

The first song on the album, ‘Follow Me’ was originally recorded by Casting Crowns on their album Thrive, and while that recording of the melody felt a little out of place for me on an album full of rock anthems and heartfelt ballads; ‘Follow Me’ fits right at home amongst the 4 songs of joyous enthusiasm, even if the musical tone of the melody in general is a little mellow compared to the fervent and energetic guitar driven songs that follow on from it. As the song tells us of the moment where Jesus called His disciples and said for them to ‘…follow me…’, along with other biblical stories where Jesus tells them to follow Him, from the woman at the well, and the thief on the cross; B eth’s powerful voice and acoustic guitar blend together quite well and present a song that can be used for both corporate gatherings of reflection, or even introspective and individual contemplation. While this song wasn’t necessarily my favourite song on Thrive, Beth’s rendition (or should I say original recording) takes this song to a whole other level as we hear how the song was originally intending to sound by a person who actually wrote the song. With a light acoustic guitar musical undertone, ‘Follow Me’ has quickly become one of my favourite songs of the year so far, and has given myself a renewed interest in Casting Crown’s version on Thrive (which at that time I didn’t really enjoy, compared to other melodies on the 12 track album).

Throughout the rest of the 4 track EP, Beth invites us all into her musical realm of folk/acoustic, as the remainder of the albeit short musical offering promotes the themes of love, hope, relationships, and the communion with our Father, all within the confines of 3 songs and 12 minutes. Standing at a short 2 minutes 50 seconds, the acoustic introduction to ‘Star in the Sky’ reminds me so much of Rend Collective’s ‘My Lighthouse’, with Beth presenting us with a theme of us being certain of God’s love for us, even when things around us don’t make much sense. As we are able to hear the hand clicking, feet stomping swaying melody and remind ourselves that music doesn’t necessarily have to be loud and electric guitar driven for it to be good; Beth offers up a moment of comfort, in the powerful and vulnerable words of how ‘…Creator and Friend, Beginning and the End, Lord You’re a mystery, the world’s in Your hands…’ Standing at a formidable five minutes long, ‘Backyard’ is presented with some light piano riffs to start off with as the feel of the melody is just like how songs were in clubs and pubs back in the 1950s and 60s. As the song tells us a story of how we long for our own backyards to be the best looking they are as we compare our ‘backyards’, both physical and metaphorical, to those around us (when we know that God has so much more in store for us rather than the comparison we fall into), Beth is sure to impact us all with this confronting, yet comforting melody that tells us that even if we are susceptible to making our own backyards beautiful, God’s love envelops us all and our past decisions do not define His love for us, thereby shifting our focus from trying to change our backyards to just accepting His love as we are (and as our backyards are as well!). ‘I’m Gonna Marry Him’, the lone relationship song on the album, changes up the tempo a bit with a banjo, mandolin, hand claps and a whole lot of enthusiasm as Beth recounts the love story which is her own within the three and a half minutes of the song. An eye opening way of showing the world what her love for her husband means to her, ‘I’m Gonna Marry Him’ is a call to all single men and women to continuously pray for our future spouses, as we know that even now, God can still make them (and us in the process) the men and women He longs for us to be as we wait for the person God has intended for us to be with from the very beginning. Well done Beth for such a personal song, played in such a joyous and energetic way, which is certain to bring to us perspective, hope and encouragement for our futures, with both God and our loved ones by our side!

Overall: Beth Hazel Farris’s first EP is sure to be one of many (and maybe even a full-length album in future) as this singer/songwriter and mother tries her hand at something that even she herself never really thought was possible- ‘…I never aspired to be a songwriter or anything of that nature. I’m a mother of four and I never really thought past just singing lullabies to the children at bed time…’ With soulful harmonies and banjo prominent melodies, Beth’s 4 song EP leaves us wanting more as this mother of four has become one of my favourite new artists of 2014 so far. Even if you have never heard of her (and I’m sure that many of you haven’t, because honestly, who really looks at the writers of the songs nowadays); Beth’s collection of these songs are the first of several EP’s slated for the rest of 2014. While 4 songs may seem a little short for a first EP/album, Beth nevertheless places her best foot forward as we are able to hear some of the best folk/acoustic tracks (at least myself) since Andrew Peterson’s Light for the Lost Boy. Well done Beth for such an enjoyable EP, and one of the standout EP’s/albums in April 2014!

RIYL: Casting Crowns, Andrew Peterson, Audrey Assad, Rend Collective, Ellie Holcomb

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3

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