Album Review :
Holly Starr - Focus

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Artist: Holly Starr
Title: Focus
Label: Save The City Records
Release Date: 10/2/12
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre


  1. Let Go
  2. This Love
  3. Don’t Have Love
  4. Through My Father’s Eyes
  5. Me and You
  6. Stop and Focus
  7. Satisfied
  8. Constant
  9. I Believe
  10. Grace For All

‘…if you believe that God is bigger than everything we can see, and that He’s more powerful than anything you’ve experienced, then you know that God’s grace can intervene in any situation in your life. The impossible is not impossible…’ Though only 21, Holly Starr has released 2 albums on Save the City Records, and through Provident Distribution, is releasing her third album, titled Focus on October 2nd. While her previous two albums were more reflective, this album is a certain change towards the pop/contemporary focus, with at times Holly’s singing reminding me of Rebecca St. James or Britt Nicole. With this album produced by Chris Stevens (TobyMac, Sanctus Real), David Garcia (Group 1 Crew) and Chuck Butler (Royal Tailor), Holly is certainly no stranger to the music industry, touring constantly, yet also having to continue to cultivate her relationship with God, continuing to grow her musical style and heart for worship. First single ‘Don’t Have Love’ released earlier in the year to much critical and commercial acclaim, with her music video on Youtube becoming more and more popular, as we are reminded that ‘…you can have a fast car, a mansion, and everyone’s attention, but it’s never gonna be enough if you don’t have love…’ (‘Don’t Have Love’) With the theme of focusing on Christ for our needs as He is our only one constant in our life full of uncertainty and possible disappointments, Holly has brought together 10 songs full of honest transparency collided with a pop nature that has propelled this album as one of my favourites over the recent months. With the album touching on a number of heavy issues like letting go of burdens that we carry and longing for a deeper relationship with Christ and wanting the barrier between to fall down, Focus is a welcomed release from an artist destined to go far in her music ministry, reminding listeners in the process that ‘…though the earth fades away, You stand the test of time, You leave me satisfied…’ (‘Satisfied’).

Releasing her corresponding music video in April 2012, Holly’s first single ‘Don’t Have Love’ reminds me thematically of For King and Country’s hit single ‘Proof of Your Love’, giving us a timely confrontational reminder, albeit a reassuring one; that everything that we have cannot compare if we don’t have love in our lives. Starting off the song with the background vocals ‘yeah, yeah’, provided by Holly herself; this pop-song at heart with enjoyable guitar riffs and a keyboard focus has real heart and daring ambitions to speak about something that other songs may shy away from. Our motivations are tough to deal with, and in a recent interview with, Holly shows listeners that ‘…even if God gave me the measure of faith to move a mountain (like I would pray for daily), but didn’t have LOVE, that I truly had nothing…’ As I reflect upon this statement, I am met with her humble nature of how life should be lived- excelling and longing for love more than the things we can acquire. The motivation behind our actions needs to be in check, and this pop-acoustic song does a great job at grabbing our attention lyrically and musically, creating great promise for Holly as she tackles issues that any normal 21 year old may never think about. Already a role model for many teenage girls, this song is sure to place her onto a new-and-noticeable list (for relatively new artists!) as she delves into the realisation that we can amass everything our hearts desires, but if love isn’t part of the process, it’ll amount to nothing. Thank you Holly for creating one of my favourite songs on Focus, reminding us that ‘…love is the one thing that’s never gonna change…’!

‘I Believe’ is one of my favourite songs on the album, and is certain to be a radio single at some point in the future. A ballad about believing even in the moments when we’re ‘…running out of breath, like rest is out of reach, overwhelmed and underneath…’, we are placed into a moment of true trust and devotion, as Holly reminds us of her own faithfulness to Christ; even inspiring us to take a look at our own. With a vocal range similar to Bethany Dillon, Natalie Grant and Britt Nicole, Holly’s mature attitude beyond her 21 years has helped her through this writing process for Focus, with ‘I Believe’ one of the strong reminders of how ‘…You will rescue me, love me faithfully, be the peace that stills my raging sea, the mercy in the moment of my need, I believe…’ Filled with an underlying presence of electronic percussion loops, ‘I Believe’ is a declaration of belief, even in a state of unbelief. Well done Holly for such a hopeful song, destined to bring individuals out of their own personal holes of hopelessness!

An album of many highlights, Focus is an album that is able to tackle hard-pressing issues whilst still retaining its fun, pop-acoustic and grooving flavour, and though a little different than Holly’s first two albums (a much more piano-based reflective note), Focus is able to remind us of our identity in Christ, and that He is enough to satisfy our longing hearts. ‘Constant’, ‘Satisfied’, ‘Stop and Focus’ and ‘Let Go’ are all quality reminders of letting go of things that may be filling our souls temporarily, but constantly leave us dry in the end. The keyboard and acoustic guitar riff driven ‘Satisfied’ calls us to task about who we place our trust in, with Holly crying out that ‘…You’re the only one that brings my heart to life, You’re the only one I know can provide…’; and ‘Constant’ echoes that sentiment through a remix beat to complement Holly’s assertion that ‘…You are the constant, You’re the only peace that stays with me, only You are the one who will be the same…who will never change…’. One of the most musically bold on the album, ‘Constant’ stretches Holly’s musical boundaries to encompass a more pop-dance flavour, yet still keeping the hard-hitting message that ‘…even when I can’t hear You, You’re still constant…’ ‘Let Go’ is the first song on the album and as Holly describes in her interview, ‘…Let Go was written as kind of a prophetic song. It wasn’t intended to be that way, but it ended up being a song that spoke to me right away…I have always struggled with trusting, so naturally this song fell from my heart…’ A song about letting go and trusting the Lord that He is our constant and that He alone will satisfy us; ‘Let Go’ leads us into the title track ‘Stop and Focus’, where together with acoustics, Holly reminds us to stop our lives once in a while to just sit to focus on Christ, even in the midst of busyness. No matter how much our heart aches and longs for things that may just seem out of our reach, this song reminds us of our much-needed rest in Him, and trusting that God will give us what He knows we need- even if it means to deprive us of what we may think we want!

With many themes like running from the interruptions and disturbances that pull us away from God, prayerfully longing to ‘…get back to the way it was, nothing in the middle of the two of us…I gotta get back to me and You…’ (‘Me And You’), an awakening of our spirit as we understand the awesomeness of Christ’s love for us (‘This Love’), and an understandingly poignant prayer filled with light guitar acoustics reminding listeners of God’s unending grace and how ‘…He knew the greatness of my fall, still He broke down every wall, all my sins are washed away, He has grace for all…’ (‘Grace For All’); Holly has shown listeners a wide variety of musical genres and themes as she gives us hope that God has loved us and will continue to love us despite and in spite of our circumstances! Yet it is acoustically driven pop anthem ‘Through My Father’s Eyes’ that has struck to me the most on Focus, with Holly delving into the theme of self-identity and body image. As spoken in a recent interview, Holly draws light on how ‘…the lyrics leave me in a vulnerable place. It’s me admitting that I have struggled with body image, and that’s not always an easy thing to say… God IS able to heal us from what seems like a disease. He did it for me, and He can do it for them too…’ Though I don’t struggle with body image, this song has reminded me of how we ought to see ourselves as God sees us- holy, blameless and perfect in His sight. Through the soft guitars and looping percussion, ‘Through My Father’s Eyes’ is a nice song about looking at things in God’s perspective, and with His help, we can shift our mindset, so we can proclaim that ‘…I’m finding beauty for the first time, looking through my Father’s eyes…’ Well done Holly for such a motivating song!

Overall: Holly’s third album is a breath of fresh air- and though tackling many heavy issues, from grace, body image, letting go of insecurities, to just stopping to focus on Christ; Focus will certainly be recognised by many critics and listeners alike as one that is able to step into uncomfortableness with so much tact, creating songs that resonate with the listener as we humbly open our hearts to see what Christ has in store for us. At times sounding like Bethany Dillon and Britt Nicole, Holly has pitched this album to teenagers (particularly girls, but listeners of all ages can purchase this album), however, I found myself enjoying this album just as much, a certainty in my top 20 Christian albums list of 2012! A definite purchase for anyone who loves acoustic pop, this is an album that will stand-out in October (along with Bebo Norman’s Lights From Distant Cities and Brandon Heath’s Blue Mountain!), reminding listeners for weeks and months to come that ‘…I can’t see where I’m going but I will believe that You’re never gonna leave, You’re always holding me…’ (‘Let Go’).

RIYL: Bethany Dillon, Rebecca St. James, Natalie Grant, Britt Nicole

Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3