Monday, June 30, 2014

Home: Kim Walker Smith and Skyler Smith: an album review by Kirk

Artists:  Kim Walker-Smith and Skyler Smith  (wife and husband)
Album: Home (2013) Jesus Culture Music.

Genre:  Adult-contemporary with a neo-folk edge.    Home is rightly described as a Christian worship album, but if you listened without hearing the words, you might first hear it as a series of passionate love songs...And it indeed it is......aimed straight out of this world into the next.

My recent discovery of the music of Kim Walker Smith is a bit like Columbus discovering America.   I thought I had made a big discovery… but a whole lot of folks living on the continent already knew she was there.   ((And now... a couple of weeks later, I am simply shaking my head... How could I NOT have known about KWS..  Now, this review sounds kind of ignorant.:))

I confess, when I picked up the album “Home” by the married couple,  Kim Walker Smith and her husband Skyler Smith, I had never heard of either person (nor of  Jesus Culture Music)    All I knew is that the cover art said “This could be music you"ll like”  --  and it was on sale.

There is this adage, never judge a book by its cover. I thoroughly reject said advice, as I find the cover is part of what makes a book enjoyable.  Same goes for music.   Great music in a bad package is less good in total, and average music with a great cover is a tad bit better, as the package frames the experience.   But that is a different idea.

I bought Home, because the cover, featuring a couple on the porch of a country home… looked kind of arty and smart, minimalistic and rootsy.  I saw a subliminal nod to the painting “American Gothic.”   I liked the guy’s glasses… (they are kind of like mine.)   Beyond that,  I thought the female looked ever so lovely with her straight blond hair, minimal makeup  and Laura Ashley dress…  Her pensive look suggested this music might be thoughtful and restrained, while her dark roots under the blonde, suggested the possibility of an indie vibe :)

I was about 69 percent right. 

Smart, yes.   Restrained.  Sort of.    Rootsy. Just a touch.

Some folks might call this folk, but that would be a stretch.   The  instrumentation highlights strong piano throughout and includes dallies with instruments like the banjo and cello… but  the sound is just too big for folk and too "rockless” for pop.  All in all, the sound is what I call “Adult contemporary with a real-music underbelly.”  Or something like that.

And though the music throughout is excellent, that is not what drives Home over the top.
First, there is that voice.

Hers.  And His.   Of the two, hers is the knockout punch.  But there is chemistry when these two twine other that is simply magic.

(I am not sure if this is good form, but if you want to hear Kim and Skyler sample this Youtube upload:

When I think of couples who stand out in duet I think of Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright (With You I am Born Again), or… in more current terms… the music of Joy Williams and John Paul White (The Civil Wars) or Glen Hassard and Marketa Irglova (from the movie Once.)   These couples tap something primeval in the human soul. 

As is, I think Skyler sounds a little like the lead singer of Cold Play, or maybe Glen Hassard, (soft, earthy, heartfelt.)  however,  Kim does not sound like Merrketa.   Not a difference in beauty or skill, but a difference in volume and vibe.  Kim simply belts power and tenderness and passion.  I might even call hers a “Diva” voice, but it is without the saccharine silliness or sensual vibrato of many of our current sirens.   Perhaps it is the message, but her voice just sounds powerful and pure.  Like a river, out of the city of God….

All of which is a set up for the greatest strength of Home.

Home is a worship album.  It it not so much intended to be listened to, but to be listened with. Home reaches deepest when we (whatever our vocal skills) jump in the seat and drive with Kim and Skyler as fellow worshipers.   It took a few listened to have these tunes soak into my being, but it time, I was there with them, before the throne.

(Thoughts on the major themes: to be developed.)

Thank you.

I noted at the beginning that Kim is already known by a lot of folks. I had no idea just how many, but a quick survey on Youtube shows that Kim has been a vital leader in live, dynamic church worship for some time.and affiliated with a group called Jesus Culture*   In fact, if we looked at the number of videos in which KWS is  a part, then multiplied those videos by the number of folks who have watched them, we may find is that Kim is one of the most loved Jesus singers ever.   So what do I know.

You can hear a body of her work here:   (As is, I seldom listen to Christian radio, as I find much of it intolerable.   So I miss some things.  Vital things.  (but not much?)

I am also surprised that the Kim I hear on Youtube and the Kim I hear on Home, are slightly different women.   Kim on Youtube is sheer tidal wave of energy and passion.   Home shows Kim in somewhat quieter mode. Still powerful, but restrained.    There is even the hint of majesty.  (Note: Syler and Kim are much aware of how this music differs from Kim's larger body of work.  See their thoughts here:

I suspect, given the compound name (Walker Smith) and the dominance of the Kim Walker name on Youtube, that "Smith" may be a more recent addition to Kim’s world.   But that union seems to have infused a maturity and beauty to what was already a passionate world.


There is one more thing I wanted to write about this album that I may regret later for its candor.  I hope it is not unseemly, but it is just what came to mind when I heard the song the Relentless Pursuit...

There is probably no more humbling and sublime words that a groom might hear from his beloved than “Do with me as you will.”   These are not words of licentiousness… but surrender in a climate of absolute trust (the groom will only ask that which is good. ) There are moments in this album that suggest that level of intimacy between us, the bride,  and Christ our eternal groom.  This is an invitation to be ravaged by the lover of our souls, with full confidence that our undoing will be our greatest gain.

Ps.  I heartily recommend this album.



In searching around the internet, I came across one group (Appraising Ministries) that is critical of the Jesus Culture (as a ministry) and the larger church community in which Kim Walker Smith and her husband operate.  I questioned whether I should even note the criticism, but I want to be rigorous, honest with self, and careful of what I put into my heart.   (The Critics of Kim Walker Smith work from a Reformed perspective, and  take issue with the strong Charismatic foundations of Jesus Culture and the Smith's  supporting church.)  As is, I am neither equipped, nor eager to get into that debate, but I will confess that I too am wary of things I have seen in the signs and wonders circles.    But here is the rub.   At what point, or upon what issues should I,  as a "patron of the arts" or as a consumer of gospel music, break ranks with others over very real differences in doctrine or ethos?  I suspect each person will have to make up his mind on where he draws his boundary lines.   I know for instance,  that I thoroughly enjoy and am deeply ministered to, by the works of Roman Catholic troubadour, John Michael Talbot.   I also know that I am critical of Roman Catholic theology at foundational points.  As for content, I do sometimes hear things in the music of JMT with which I might differ, but by an large his music is such that I, as a son of the Reformation, find deep nurture and common ground.  The same would apply to this music.   I simply do not hear anything in the music as presented that should cause me to pause.  Indeed, I hear things in this music that should be common ground for all who seek to love God with heart and mind.    So, while I will keep the concerns of Appraising Ministries before my eyes, I stand firmly behind my initial recommendation.