Thursday, April 4, 2013

RECORD REVIEW: Holly Starr "Focus"

Holly Starr
(Save the City Records)

WOW  just when
least expected, I
may have discovered
the perfect pop record!

There I was, surfin' the Net, researching for a feature story that I was writing. I'd navigated to YouTube and thought that I had clicked on a video for one of Francesca Battistelli's latest. But a few seconds into the song, I realized that it wasn't Francesca. It was actually "Don't Have Love" by 21-year-old, singer / songwriter, Holly Starr. "Holy cow," I said to myself. "This is absolutely incredible! But that stage name is kinda cheesy." Oops, as it turns out, Holly Starr is her real name. No, really. In short order, I located her website, as I simply had to have her record.

Starr's story is a cool one. After posting a couple of tunes on MySpace (Yeah, I'd forgotten too.) a few years ago, the Washington farm girl was spotted by producer Brandon Bee. Under Bee's guidance, Starr's debut release Embraced arrived in 2008. Produced by Dove Award-winner Rusty Varenkamp, her sophomore record Tapestry was released in 2010. During that time, she toured the U.S. — playing some of the largest Christian music festivals. And in October 2012, Starr released her latest, Focus — an infectious ten-song set produced by Chris Stevens, David Garcia and Chuck Butler.

Fresh, snappy, catchy, poppy — HOORAY — all of my fave adjectives apply to this one!

Starr's voice is delightfully unique and her harmonies are impeccable — layers and layers (and layers) of amazing, tight harmonies. And combining the vocal delicateness of JJ Heller with the lyrical transparency of Sara Groves,  Focus is light years ahead of most records on today's Christian pop market.

Having co-written all ten tracks, Starr succeeds where many of her contemporaries fall short. In fact, these days, the Jesus-factor gets so buried beneath mountains of ambiguity that I'm often unsure as to whether the typical "Johnny Poptart" is singing about the King of Kings or the King of Beers. Hence, Starr scores big, in that I didn't have to invest any time discerning her message — it's perfectly clear. And that message is ALL about glorifying JESUS CHRIST!

Based on Proverbs 3:5-6, "Let Go" is one of the best of the batch. It's a bona fide earworm and completely on-point... No, there's nothing I own. All You've designed so beautifully sewn. Oh please, help me let go. 'Cause You're in control.

In the musical vein of Maroon 5, "This Love" is another engaging highlight... By His body broken, the grave is opened up. Hope is only found in what He's done. Our sin has been erased. Our God has saved the day. We are forever changed because of this love, this love.

The record's lead single, "Don't Have Love," is a modern retelling of Corinthians 13. Co-written with Chris Stevens, it is simply one of the finest pop tunes I've heard in a (very) long time... Love's never selfish. Love's never vain. Love doesn't criticize. Love doesn't blame. From the beginning, through every age, love is the one thing that's never gonna change.

Of the title track, Starr says, "Not only do I want to focus on God in terms of devotion and spending time in the Word, I want to be able to do that as I'm walking through every day"... Lord I really need to stop right now — stop now and focus on you. Even with the chaos all around — I'll stop now and focus on you.

Written by Star and Michael Fordinal, "Satisfied" is another catchy, true blue gem — perhaps the record's crowning jewel... You're the only one who brings my heart to life. You're the only one I know who can provide, joy all my days. Though the earth fades away, you stand the test of time. You leave me satisfied.

Almost hymn-like, "Grace for All" is a collaboration between Starr and David Moffitt. Honest and pure, it makes for an incredible and moving record closer... I will remember the heavy cross where Jesus bled and died. When no one else could pay the cost through death, he bought me life. He knew the greatness of my fall, still he broke down every wall. All my sins are washed away. He has grace for all. 'NUFF SAID!

Okay, so Holly Star is amazing, and Focus is a fun, high-energy record filled with well-crafted pop songs and loads of Jesus factor — but honestly, is it really a "perfect" record? Well, yes. IT ABSOLUTELY IS!

-Christopher Long
(April 2013)



C'MON! -


  1. Spot on! The girl has chops ... and loves Jesus!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing, Joseph. Yes, Holly is amazing indeed! Don't be a stranger.


  2. Holly Starr's music is amazing! I listen to her over and over and over again, and get something new out of it each time. Thanks for reviewing one of my favs!

    1. My pleasure, Laura. It's one of my favorites too!