Release Date: April 24th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Chris Renzema – Let the Ground Rest (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Maybe This is the End
- Not Finished Yet
- God is Love
- Signal Fire
- Older Than Our God (Forever Young)
- Steal Back Your Joy
- Let the Ground Rest
‘…there’s kind of a few ways to approach music. One is to get it all perfect because you can. The other, is to make it in such a way that people can tell a human-being made it. ’Let the Ground Rest’ is by far the most humanrecord I’ve gotten to make… the heartbeat behind ‘Let the Ground Rest’ [the song and the album] is the idea that growth comes from periods of rest, of barrenness. It’s a process to exist, to learn and understand God’s love. While His love is not seasonal, we go through seasons as we understand and experience it. Spring is not spring without winter, and that process is a good thing…’ If you’d have to pick my top three new artists of the 2019/2020 period, artists that have stood out with great songs and albums that have reminded us all of everything good when it comes to new CCM acts, it’d have to be artists like We the Kingdom, Leanna Crawford and Chris Renzema. No question. We have reviewed projects from We the Kingdom and Leanna Crawford here and here, but it was only recently, with the last few weeks, that I decided to take a chance and listen to the music of Chris, recent signing to Centricity Music. And boy was I not disappointed. With Chris himself being an up-and-comer from Grand Rapids, Michigan, this acoustic indie-rock budding young artist, in a similar vein to that of Jason Gray or Andrew Peterson, just unveiled his sophomore album Let the Ground Rest in late April, and his first on Centricity Music, home to both Andrew and Jason, plus many more artists.
With Chris’s love for storytelling and poignant lyrical moments coming through in this very 2020 album, Chris’s heart to provide to us music that has the power and ability to impact people’s lives with an encouraging moment said through lyric, is something unique and special enough to warrant a Dove Award Nominee selection at the 2020 annual awards for New Artist of 2019/20. And even though people have probably only heard of Chris’s music now, because of his signing to Centricity; he’s been making music before- 2014 saw his independent Age to Age EP release, while his first full length album sprouted to life in 2018. His vocals hauntingly refreshing, his emotion poignantly placed, his heart for good deep lyricism completely transparent, this is an artist with true hopeful songs that challenge us all in our own walk with Christ through this difficult time this year- and a must-listen if you’re fans of artists like Andrew and Jason just aforementioned, or even artists like Jars of Clay, Tenth Avenue North, Cody Carnes or the ever-reliable mainstream/Chrisitan crossover band, needtobreathe.
ABOUT ‘SPRINGTIME’: “Springtime,” the opening track, is a special song to me. It’s the first song I’ve co-written with another songwriter. It was originally supposed to be released in spring. But, the executive decision was to release it in the winter. I actually wanted to release it in spring. That season, in itself, symbolizes growth. The song itself is about growth. We’re like soil, moving winter into spring. Growing in a new season. The heartbeat of the whole album is the idea that growth comes from periods of rest, of barrenness. It’s a process to exist, to learn, and understand God’s love. While His love is not seasonal, we go through seasons as we understand and experience it. Spring is not spring without winter, and that process is a good thing.
ABOUT ‘THIS IS THE END’: I find the idea that the end is just another door to be really hopeful. It’s a very loose riff on something from Lord of the Rings, actually. Gandalf uses this memorable quote in the film: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.” I think people can be so stressed about the time they have spent or the time they don’t have left. We should change our perspective and embrace the truth that the end is just the start of something new, something we all experience. The end doesn’t have to be scary. Simply, think to yourself, “How am I not going to waste this?.” There’s a lot more time left.
ABOUT ‘NOT FINISHED YET’: I wrote “Not Finished Yet” in two parts. The first two verses center around two different metaphors about a sculptor and a gardener, both describing the Lord as someone who slowly works on us, but is moving towards a beautiful conclusion.
ABOUT ‘GOD IS LOVE’: This song, probably more than any other song I’ve written, hits you in the face with these words: “What more could I say about Him, my God is love.”I have been sitting on this song’s chorus for a while. I couldn’t hear a way to go with the rest of it. And, I didn’t want to screw up what I had. I ended up finishing the song with other writers. It turned out better than what it could’ve been on my own. “God Is Love” is a communal worship song, written by multiple people. Honestly, I think having multiple songwriters helps build into that aspect of it being for all people.
ABOUT ‘17’: “Seventeen” is the oldest song on the album. I had absolutely no intention of showing it to anybody when I first wrote it. I don’t usually feel that way about my music. But, I think it’s because the song is very personal, very confessional. A lot of my songs feel that way, but this one in particular.
ABOUT ‘SIGNAL FIRE’: “Signal Fire” is the pop song of the record. I’ve struggled in the past to put music out that I thought didn’t feel heady enough. And, I think the more that I write and the more that I listen to music, the more that I see that so many of my favorite songs just hammer home one point well. “Signal Fire” is a simple song that ends up just being a lot of fun.
ABOUT ‘OLDER THAN OUR GOD: “Older Than Our God” is the headiest song I’ve ever written. I wrote it with Matt Maher. We were chatting about the English writer GK Chesteron, as we started to write. Basically, I misquoted a GK Chesteron quote. And, it became the song.
ABOUT ‘BETTER’: I wrote “Better” at four in the morning. My roommates were gone and the house was empty. So, I stayed up at my piano and did some late-night singing. “Better” came from a very raw, rough place. I was trying to understand who God is and who I am. I felt like I wasn’t enough. Falling through the cracks made me feel crazy. I was holding on by a tiny thread of hope, hoping that everything would get better. I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know how. This song is a get-well card to myself and others. I know this card doesn’t actually help anything, necessarily. But, the fact that we’re all on the same page about wanting to understand things better, love better, and be better, I think, is universally true.
ABOUT ‘STEAL BACK YOUR JOY’: I wrote this song at a writer’s retreat, without any co-writers (I don’t think we are supposed to do that). I was in Washington with other worship writers. We were showing each other songs. During this experience, I noticed many writers were referencing John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I’ve heard this scripture so many times. But, I never heard a conclusive statement on it. So, I came up with the idea, referencing my more anxious times, where the enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy, but I was going to steal it back.
ABOUT ‘LET THE GROUND REST’: “Let The Ground Rest,” the album’s title track, was the last song that I wrote before recording the album. I know I’ve said this about other songs. But, this is, legitimately, my favorite song on the album. It’s just all about the groove and it’s got a great feel. It’s another song we cut just live together and didn’t really edit. We didn’t really change anything in the piano playing of the vocals. Those lines “He’ll finish what He starts, and He started, this I know. If you saw the plans, maybe you wouldn’t go. I saw him plant a seed and then let the ground rest. So believe, because there’s going to be a harvest.” We don’t need that now to believe that these words are true. These lines are what the song’s about and what the album’s about. And, hopefully, this is what’s guiding me all the time.
Let the Ground Rest as a whole is one of the most surprising albums, in a good way- and above are the ten songs, and the ten ‘story-behind-the-song’ excerpts Chris himself wrote down for the publication NewReleaseToday; and while it can seem like quoting them all verbatim can seem like a cop-out, that I didn’t really know what to say about them upon hearing these songs, in my own words that I used Chris’s himself…well, maybe that’s correct. For I can’t think of a better person to write his own review than Chris himself, right? For this album is by far one of the gems of 2020 thus far, and reminds me a lot of artists like Andrew Peterson, or Jason Gray, or to a lesser extent, Tenth Avenue North. Heartfelt lyrics against the backdrop of folk music, acoustic music, some country vibes, music that just demands a response, of any kind, as we hear these emotive and heartfelt songs in this album. Standouts like ‘Springtime’, ‘God is Love’, the title track and one of my personal favourites, ‘Steal Back Your Joy’, are just moments of honest songwriting, as metaphors of agriculture, soil, planting, harvesting and just out-doorsy things, are all sprinkled through Let the Ground Rest, and all allude to this one very notion, that there is a time to rest, and often, the time is closer than we think.
Too often in our lives, we are caught up in all the busyness, and here in this album, I’ve been able to reflect and see things from a different point of view. Songs have spoken to me that I probably wouldn’t have listened to, if it wasn’t for a review-purpose. There I said it- Chris’s music was a little too folksy for me initially to even get in to it a few months ago, but as I started again to take the plunge into the music today, I was wrong, and I was very, very pleased that I was wrong in this instance. Let the Ground Rest is one of refreshing and renewal, as we rid ourselves of all the stress and worries in our lives, through just letting ‘the ground’ rest for a while- moving on to something else and coming back to it when the season is right. There are times and seasons for everything, and Chris’s album, is one that encourages us all that the season of listening to this album, may just be today. A great album to be encouraged by, especially in this time of COVID-19, this is a must-have if you enjoy folk music, acoustic music, and everything else in between. Well done Chris for such a poweful album, here’s hoping you follow along in Andrew Peterson’s footsteps and create music in a similar way to him, as the months and years continue to progress!
‘…Renzema’s songs are acoustic at heart, shifting seamlessly from indie rock to folk worship to Americana; gritty but accessible, profound but infinitely listenable with a voice that yearns like a desert island man singing for a cup of water. It’s bone deep, an echoing of the universality of pain and praise…’ [Chris Renzema press release statement as per Centricity Music]
4 songs to listen to: Springtime, God is Love, Signal Fire, Steal Back Your Joy
RIYL: Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Jars Of Clay, Tenth Avenue North, needtobreathe, Cody Carnes