Contestants of singing competitions shows often get unfairly caricatured into karaoke singers. And when they released their own albums, fans and critics alike hope they can replicate the same kind of cover songs that first brought them to fame.
NBC’s The Voice has brought a number of Christian singers into the spotlight, and Koryn Hawthorne is one who has absolutely stormed onto the Christian music scene. Three years after appearing on the show, finalist Koryn Hawthorne released her debut full-length album via RCA Inspiration.
Refusing to be re-packaged into an updated karaoked version of Ariana Grande or Alicia Keys, Hawthorne has delivered an out-of-the-box collection of freshly written songs. Daring, unpredictable, and fluid enough that she doesn’t fall into the mire of genre specification, these 10 songs contain a cacophony of jazz, pop, Gospel and even hard rock.
Nevertheless, what is unadulterated is the lyrical content. Hawthorne is never ambiguous in her explicitly God-centered lyrics, such as you don’t have to guess if a “he” in a song refers to a human being or Jesus.
Opening with distorted Led Zeppelin-esque electric guitar riffs before exploding into a booming anthemic chorus, Warriors shows that white guys are not the only ones who know a thing or two about rock n’roll. Sandwiched between this refreshing tune is an empowering message about ignoring the ‘enemy’ and our need to be ‘iconic.’
The album’s lead single Won’t He Do It (Remix) has been in prominent spots on gospel music charts for a while now, and for good reason. It is this generation’s Shackles (Praise You). It’s a perfect blend of gospel and pop-R&B songwriting, accented by Hawthorne’s powerful vocal delivery and the slightly “trappy” production style that keeps the track stylistically relevant and market ready.
The relatively light tone sets this track – and the rest of the album, honestly – apart from other darker sounding “trap soul” counterparts in the mainstream market (and even the current wave in “CHH”). In fact, in spite of all the 808-style percussion, fluttering hi-hats, and 8th note triplets, the harmonic structure of these songs usually manages to keep things adequately in the gospel realm.
This genre fusion is perfected by the fact that it is executed in a self-aware and intentional way. Studio albums by gospel artists can sometimes come across as stylistically scattered (see Tye Tribbett and Israel Houghton’s offerings in this category).
Hawthorne and her team know exactly what they are going for and manage to keep the album diverse without any radical or distracting departures. The album is gospel enough throughout that the ballads and worship numbers don’t feel out of place (You Still Love Me, Speak The Name), but also has enough of a modern edge for a rap feature on Reasons to make sense, as well as the distorted-guitar-driven album bookends Warriors and Down Goes Rome.
More mainstream is the duet with Natalie Grant Speak the Name. As octave stretching as Hawthorne’s vocals are, Natalie Grant shows that she can compete note for note on this soaring power ballad. With the touching You Still Love Me, we get to hear Hawthorne’s heart as she revels in Christ’s love despite her weaknesses and failings. Though it doesn’t have much of a sustainable melody, Bless Up, sounds like a blast from the 70s days of Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, save for the plush beats.
Watch Won’t He Do It here:
The strongest feature of this offering is Koryn’s voice, by far and without a doubt. Her versatility is constantly on display: she is compelling and emotive on the softer tracks and manages subtle backing vocal textures, but leans heavily into her belting zone just as often.
The grittiness in her voice and the frequent rawness of her delivery is perhaps the quintessential anti-mumble rap. The weakest part of the album might be repetition and brevity. Four of the ten total tracks are repeat songs from her previous self-titled 2017 EP. The album totals 37 minutes of playtime – a respectable runtime in general, if not for the fact that some of the songs feel like they end a little too abruptly or inconclusively (Down Goes Rome, Truth).
Overall, this record should serve as an excellent introduction for Hawthorne as a promising new artist. She has plenty of room to grow, but in this case, that is a good thing. She delivers a stylistically relevant pop-gospel album without sacrificing vocal quality or songwriting, takes Christian radio by storm, and manages to do so without being cheesy. Things are looking good for Koryn Hawthorne. If she can crank out a greater volume of songs and continue to hone her craft, she may, in fact, prove to be unstoppable.
Watch Unstoppable here