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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Closer to Home

  • reviewed by Christa Banister Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Dec
Closer to Home
Sounds like … folk-tinged pop akin to Josh Rouse and Bebo Norman with the worshipful spirit of Rich Mullins and the artful, ambient touches of Elliot Smith and Starflyer 59At a glance … proving once again there's beauty in simplicity, Willoughby's music shines with an earthy, atmospheric sound, thoughtful lyrics and warm, inviting vocalsTrack Listing Pilgrim Velvet Kiss Over My Head Nothing Compares Jesus Take Me Back Ice Nothing to Offer

As a son of a traveling missionary, Canadian singer/songwriter Joel Willoughby absorbed plenty of culture in his youth, having called a variety of places home—including Kenya, Uganda and India. And with such varied life experiences, that well-traveled, world-weary soul can't help but show up in the songs on Willoughby's debut, Closer to Home.

From the opening track "Pilgrim" to the contemplative closer, "Nothing to Offer," Willoughby invites the listener on a colorful journey that's a search for peace one moment ("Over My Head"), a call for reflection the next ("Nothing Compares"), and with moments of heartfelt praise in between ("Jesus").

While the lyrics certainly stray from the tried-and-true musings on the usual spiritual topics and paint more of an abstract, poetic picture on these eight tracks, it's Willoughby's assuming vocals and the disc's dreamy, lush soundscape that really steal the show on Closer to Home. With the laidback vibe of your favorite coffeehouse singer combined with the cool experimental elements that make Starflyer 59 such an enjoyable band album after album, Willoughby manages to keep his folk foundation fresh by incorporating a little country twang ("Ice") and Brit-pop sensibility ("Take Me Back") in the mix. While genre-hopping can be a pet peeve of mine when hoping for more of a cohesive final product, Willoughby makes it work by subtly weaving in these different musical textures. That way, there isn't a huge disconnect from song to song.

And considering how adept Willoughby is with crafting his own music, it came as a surprise that he only regards his solo CD as a "side interest that has been developing over the past several years" as he also serves as the drummer for several area indie bands including the critically acclaimed act, Maplewood Lane. With such a stellar portfolio, you'd think he'd want to make his solo act more of a priority. But it seems that Willoughby is just as comfortable in a supporting role.

In the meantime, however, there's more music in the works. If this project serves as any indication of his potential, it should be exciting to see what he has up his proverbial sleeve.

For more information on Willoughby, visit

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