I think my wife, Kelsey, said it best: “Find me in twenty years and I will still be listening to this warm, rich album.” Everything about Hold Still is a slow burn—even down to the process of making it, from what I’ve gathered. Begun before the pandemic and finished just a few months ago, Taylor Leonhardt sure had to hold still in order to make it. But the result of her patience is an abiding work which is sure to stand the test of time.
Taylor is at her best as a writer when she spares her words. This much was evident from 2017’s River House, whose opening track manages to pack layers of meaning into the deceivingly simple line, “This is gonna change everything.” And if River House‘s strongest moments were marked by that instinct for sparseness, then Hold Still carries it into a new, more open horizon; as a listener, I not only appreciate this stylistic choice, but feel cared for because of it. Each song conveys a spaciousness which seems to say, There’s room for you here. The whole album, crafted out of deep patience, comes across as one extended invitation into patience itself, beckoning me to lay aside distractions and move into a more contemplative listening posture.
Whether the subject is the vortex of social media jealousy (“Happy or Whatever”), the struggle of learning how to draw boundaries (“The Bridge”), the companionship of a beloved dog (“Someday You’re Gonna Leave Me”), or the miracle of a friendship that weathers our worst moments (“Keep Me Around”), each song presents the mundane stuff of our lives as worthy of our curiosity, and ultimately bound up in the very poetry of God, steadied by the assurance that “he won’t waste a word” (“Poetry”). These songs are humble offerings of our fragmented humanity, delivered without a trace of pretense, yet full of hope for the redemption of these fragments as part of a much larger story.
One of the many delights of Hold Still is that these principles of patience, simplicity, and understatement operate far beyond the realm of Taylor’s songwriting. Producer Lucas Morton guided every step of the process with exquisite attention to the task of faithfully translating these songs into finished recordings—and it sounds that way. There’s not a shortcut in sight; every element of the mix has been added with careful consideration to how it serves the song as a whole. Much of this impression is owed to the performances themselves, and we have a world-class band of musicians to thank for that: Will Sayles, Tyler Burkum, Scott Mulvahill, and Justin Schipper are among the best at what they do, and their contributions are the epitome of tasteful.
It’s so gratifying to witness an artist discovering a whole new gear they didn’t know was available to them. I already had great appreciation for Taylor’s work, but then she released “Poetry.” And it was no less than the sound of someone who has absolutely found their voice and is singing at the top of their lungs to the glory of God. To share that voice and these songs with us is an act of equal parts vulnerability and generosity, and I’ve rarely been so grateful to listen.