Capitol CMG/Sparrow Records
Release Date: August 3rd 2018
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Hold On
- Better For It
- Saving Me
- Running After You
- Broken Prayers
- Drop Everything
- You First
- I’ll Stay
- Broken Prayers (Piano Only)
‘…the beautiful thing about faith in Jesus is that He takes us at our worst and He also takes us at our best. It gives me a lot of peace to know that the One who created us takes delight in us even in our weakness. I want to bring as much glory to God as I could, and I have a huge heart for young women and know the challenges we are going through and want people to know that they are not alone. It’s so important that people know that we have light and hope in Jesus. What matters to me is that these songs are unifying and when we fall short and feel weak, we serve a God who takes us that way. I don’t think there’s anything more unifying than that. My encouragement is to know that you are never alone and you have a God who loves you when you don’t feel your best…’ Riley Clemmons has been one of 2018’s new artist’s that have come out of nowhere and is taking the world by storm. Sure, we have had artists like Austin French, Mack Brock (though he was part of Elevation Worship for ages before he departed and is now a solo artist), the young escape, For All Seasons, Cory Asbury, Pat Barrett, Jasmine Murray, Aaron Cole and Alisa Turner to name a few, that have released debut material over the last year or so; yet I reckon it was and will always be Riley that has made the most impact over such the same period in time. Though I reckon the breakout song by a new artist is and always will be ‘Reckless Love’, breakout artist, I reckon, is Riley Clemmons, not just because most, if not all of whatever she has released has been well-received by lovers of mainstream music, as well as CCM, but rather, of her personality and heart to create music that influences, and resonates with the soul.
Signing to Capitol CMG late last year, she released her debut song ‘Broken Prayers’ to unprecedented crossover success, and followed-up with singles ‘Broke’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Better For It’ before her debut album release Riley Clemmons this last Friday (a day or so ago). Produced by award-winning producers Tommee Profitt and Tedd T.; this is a must-have for anyone who loves great pop that can be applicable for both lovers of CCM and mainstream music, or even fans of other similar artists like Rachael Lampa, Stacie Orrico, Hollyn or Britt Nicole, or all of the aforementioned artists above. Basically, if you enjoy great, productionally powerful pop music akin to much of what mainstream media is delivering, yet still having an inspirational and positive edge, then Riley Clemmons is the album to check out this year, if ever there is only one album to check out. In fact, this album is by far one of my favourite CCM/pop album releases by any debut artist, ever since Moriah Peters’ debut in 2012!
‘Broken Prayers’, ‘Better For It’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Broke’ are the songs that released by Riley prior to release of her full length album- ‘Broken Prayers’ late last year to rave reviews and critical acclaim. As Riley says herself, ‘…The song “Broken Prayers” came truly from a place of brokenness and that feeling of having to get yourself together and bring the best most picture-perfect version of yourself to God, basically feeling like the broken pieces aren’t good enough for God. The song came from a place of truly finding peace in the fact that God takes you at your most broken, at your lowest place and at your roughest. And not only does He take you there but He delights in it. And He genuinely loves you in that place…’ This song, very similar in theme to The Afters’ ‘Broken Hallelujah’, is a reminder that we can take our prayers to God, however put together they are, or even however messed up they are, we don’t have to put on a front and say the perfect prayer before a perfect Father- because truth is- if we believe that we have to have an all-together prayer for God, we really believe that God may not handle our broken and messy states we’re in, thus, we may have a warped sense of God in the first place. The fact is- God can handle what we throw at Him, not matter how messy or broken. The song calls for us to be vulnerable and honest, for it is out of being broken, that we can realise that God heals such states, and that what we feel and the vulnerability we show can and ought to allow others to unveil such vulnerabilities also. ‘Broken Prayers’ is therapeutic, and hopefully, it can provide a lot of healing for those whom have heard it, in the months and even years to come!
With such a powerful and strong, successful and radio charting hit in ‘Broken Prayers’, it can be hard for the next single to live up to the first one, because frankly, you can’t beat your first breakout song right? Yes, I do think that whenever an artist releases their first song on the radio, it is something special. That is definitely the case with ‘Broken Prayers’, the song will always be special for at least the sentimental value. Yet a song like ‘Better for It’ is as equally powerful, maybe even more so, than ‘Broken Prayers’. I know, such a bold statement, yet when you hear this 3:16 track, I’m sure you would agree. Riley invites us to partake in a message of how we are ‘better for it’ when we are in difficulties and trials, because we know during such times, Christ comes alongside us, journeying with us during moments of uncertainty, as we rely on Him in such circumstances. Riley’s passion and heart is far beyond her 18 years, as she delivers such themes with heart, hope, vigour and fervent belief, that God will use whatever is thrown our way, to shape us into people that can be more resilient and reliant on Him, knowing full well that we will be ‘better for it’, whatever ‘it’ is. ‘Better For It’ can be as encouraging as it should be- as we who listen are reminded of how God uses the broken and difficult times in our lives to shape and refine us, to bring us to a place where all we rely on is Him for everything we need. It is when difficulties come that our egos and pride dies- not a moment before. ‘Better For It’ is as needed as it is confronting I’m sure to some people who hear the song. Still, Riley nevertheless invites us all, throughout all the electronic vocals that are employed in the song, to look at our own lives and figure out if we truly believe that we will be better for it if we still go through these trials, knowing full well that God our Father and friend is with us every step of the way.
Both ‘Broke’ and ‘Hold On’ are the two remaining melodies released prior to August 3rd, and both are reminders that an artist like Riley can be as versatile as she is talented musically and stylistically, by pulling off different musical genres, and doing them well. ‘Broke’ employs a soul-gospel atmosphere, something similar to what Tori Kelly delivered when she sung ‘Help Us To Love’ feat. The Hamiltones, a little while ago, while ‘Broke’ and its message finds us being reminded that vulnerability is a sign of strength rather than weakness, that ‘…with You, I don’t need to hide that I’m a little broke inside, You love me when I’m broke inside, cause You see my light, even in my darkest times, You love me when I’m broke inside…’ ‘Hold On’, the last remaining track to debut prior to August 3rd (release day for the album), debuted in the form of a colourful music video on A Plus (Ashton Kutcher’s website, whose goal it is to deliver positive journalism material to be a source of communication of social issues around the world). As Riley puts it, ‘…I think it’s fascinating and beautiful that we often find our greatest strength in our weakest moments. ‘Hold On’ is something that I tell myself when it seems impossible to find the light, and it’s what I want every listener to remember on their hardest day. Everyone has something within them that’s worth fighting for. Whatever you’re walking through right now, no matter how impossible and challenging it seems, it’s worth it to keep holding on… I constantly have to remind myself that perfection isn’t the goal. I find a lot of motivation rooted in the idea that I’m a work in progress, and that’s OK. In the hard moments, I try to pause and ask myself why I wanted to chase this dream in the first place…’ It is certainly pleasing and impressive for a CCM/pop artist like Riley to have their music debut on a site like Ashton Kutcher’s, let alone Ashton’s himself…so a song like ‘Hold On’ that has such a universal appeal, for the first track on Riley Clemmons– let’s just say that whomever hears the album, needs to stop and take notice at track #1. The first track ‘Hold On’ is a fitting track as the first song as well, as Riley imparts to us that as Christians, God’s love and grace is what we hold onto during such difficult moments. The visual and uniquely choreographed video is also an added bonus- here’s hoping whomever hears the song and watches the video is as encouraged by it as I was/am!
Throughout the rest of the album, we are blessed to hear Riley present a plethora of themes and styles as we are met with one of the most versatile CCM/pop albums I’ve heard since for KING AND COUNTRY’s RUN WILD LIVE FREE LOVE STRONG way back in 2014. ‘Saving Me’ employs string instruments and Riley emulating a vocal similar to that of Rachael Lampa back in the day, to deliver a song that encourages us that we always have a Saviour saving us, often on a continual basis, we we are reminded through such a song as this, that we don’t always have to put up a front, that God wants us to be vulnerable and ask Him for help, that in the moment of realising that we can’t do things ourselves, we can be free to just be and struggle, rather than just struggling. ‘Remember’ presents a robotic EDM-esque track that allows Riley to embody a vocal and style resemblant of mainstream acts like Ellie Goulding or Kelly Clarkson, to remind us that God doesn’t make mistakes when He created us, that we ought to remember who we are and what we are to Christ- sons and daughters of the most High King, that we are heirs to the throne and anyone else who tells us less than that, is a thought we must not hold captive to our hearts. With this song unlike anything on the radio currently, it would be nice to see ‘Remember’ as a radio single in the future…but then again, maybe not, because people may not appreciate the unique and sophisticated music atmosphere. Nevertheless, Riley presents such a song that stretches the musical boundaries of what constitutes a good pop song- and ‘Remember’ is the result.
‘Honest’ presents Riley with her best ‘Hollyn’ hat on as she unveils a song about indeed just what the song title suggests- honesty. At 3:00, ‘Honest’ divulges to us that we as humans and even Christians have to be honest, and to unveil what we believe to be honest for us, can be daunting and worrisome. Yet to be honest and vulnerable is to allow God to break through and to alter our own preconceived ideas about love, life, God, relationships and everything else, as to be honest is to allow God to invade our space and rearrange the parts of ourselves that can seem the most dark and hurtful in our own lives. Musically, this song reminds me a lot of Rachael Lampa’s ‘Saviour Song’ or Hollyn’s ‘All My Love’- pure pop at its finest. ‘Running After You’ and ‘Drop Everything’ are songs that are some of my favourites from the album, and both present musically different genres that speaks to the fact of Riley’s versatility as an artist as a whole- ‘Running After You’ is EDM with added strings, while ‘Drop Everything’ is more ‘EDM meets orchestral. ‘Running After You’ is about a realisation that we as Christians were running after God all the time prior to being a Christian, while ‘Drop Everything’ paints vulnerability in a new light, as Riley imparts a hopeful and encouraging prayer, asking the Lord to help her to ‘…drop everything, shut the door, I got to hear myself think, there’s a peace You can give to me, what I need, I’ve been talking too much but now I’m listening…’
Riley’s new album also presents songs ‘You First’ and ‘I’ll Stay’, the former being a pop EDM melody about how we as Christians pledge our love and affection for Jesus, running to Him first, before anything else in the world, while the latter is a reflective ballad where we see the persona sing to their friend, reminding them that in their time of difficulty and plight, they will stay with them and hang around, because even though ‘…I can’t make a rainbow out of rain, I can’t write a song to heal the pain, but I’ll be standing here why the world turns away, I won’t pretend like I can save the day, say the words to make it all okay, but while the world turns away, I’ll stay…’ Heartfelt and honest, ‘I’ll Stay’ is perhaps one of the most emotive and vulnerable songs on the album, and a certain standout on Riley Clemmons.
Riley Clemmons’ new self-titled album is a powerful collection of moments full of hope, heart and comfort as this 12-track album becomes a worthy follow-up to her smash hits ‘Broken Prayers’ and ‘Better for It’. Whether or not this new album of hers will become as popular as any other pop/CCM album released in 2018, is anyone’s guess, yet, from first and second listens of the album, I am reminded myself that this music is unique and special, and whomever hears it will be in for a real treat, from an 18 year old whose music writing and singing is far beyond her years. A new artist that I reckon could be nominated for a Dove Award for New Artist of the Year when the awards come this October; this is a must have for anyone who is a fan of similar Christian artists like Britt Nicole, Rachael Lampa and Hollyn, or mainstream sensations like Stacie Orrico, Cimorelli or Tori Kelly!
4 songs to listen to: Hold On, Running After You, Drop Everything, Better For It
RIYL: Hollyn, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace, Cimorelli, Rachael Lampa, Stacie Orrico