Capitol Christian Music Group/Rend Family Records
Release Date: October 7th 2016
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- This Little Light of Mine
- Free As a Bird
- Live Alive
- Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
- Every Giant Will Fall
- My Lighthouse
- Whatever Comes
- Joy of the Lord
- Your Royal Blood
- More Than Conquerors
- You Will Never Run
‘…so often, especially in ministry, we struggle to really let go and rest. If we’re honest there’s a little part of us that believes we have some sort of power to rescue and save others. Otherwise why would we be afraid of stopping, closing our eyes, and resting from our work? Sometimes it’s especially hard when the need feels overwhelmingly great. Ministry is full-time because people, brokenness and lives are full-time. Marriages keep breaking, babies need homes, someone needs a ride, someone else needs a meal, there needs to be a shoulder to cry on, someone to comfort, someone to show them they aren’t alone and forgotten. In the midst of everything, it feels wrong to curl up, turn off your phone, and read a book, or sleep, or go for a run, or sleep some more. It feels selfish, overindulgent…’ Rend Collective have always been a band that challenges, either in song by delivering out-of-the-box musical experiences with a wide range of worship styles and unique representations of songs, or by way of this powerful and revealing quote from a blog of theirs they wrote way back last year when they were promoting their new studio album As Family We Go. This Northern Irish band has been growing from strength to strength (in both a musical and lyrical standpoint as each album progresses), since their inception in 2010 with Organic Family Hymnal, and as their popularity grows over the years, so has my respect and appreciation for this band, a band that has, I reckon, somewhat filled the gap left by the British worship quintet Delirious? when they disbanded in 2009.
The band has always been about presenting to us fresh and unique takes on the worship genre, and since their ingenious music video for “Movements” way back in the day, Rend Collective have continued to show us what it means for the worship, folk, acoustic and pop genres to collide together, and collide together well. And with this live/acoustically recorded album still following the trademark folk-worship sound a la Delirious? meets All Sons and Daughters atmosphere that were shown in their previous albums, Rend Collective’s approach to worship, music, collectiveness and family that can only be said to be awe-inspiring, is enough to warrant a listen from anyone who is a fan of modern worship music. Even if you aren’t an avid listener to the group, or are a newcomer into worship music, this is nevertheless an album to check out, and then branch out into other albums from the band if you feel as if Rend Collective’s approach to music is something you can get behind. The band is nonetheless a welcomed asset within the Christian worship music genre; with Rend Collective’s primary focus as a group is to uniquely inject the elements of fun, hope, joy and emotion together, all into the realm of worship music- it is therefore something that is much needed as well as welcomed (by myself at least), as the band continues to spark something different in a genre that continues to strive on radio marketability and songs for the church.
In similar vein to the 2013 album Campfire, Rend Collective rearranges and reimagines songs that have been popular throughout their previous albums- on 2013’s Campfire, Rend Collective sung songs from their first 2 studio albums Organic Family Hymnal and Homemade Worship for Handmade People, this time in Campfire 2: Simplicity, Chris Llewelyn and co. pick tracks from As Family We Go and The Art of Celebration. Standing at 12 tracks long; and with 2 new songs (“Live Alive” and “Whatever Comes”), along with a cover of “Oceans” and a 40 second tag of “This Little Light of Mine”, the album can seemingly seem like a little bit of a throwaway piece, a collection of songs that don’t necessarily seem to have much of a thread throughout. Still, as we listen deeper into the track list, we find that in spite of a few covers and a few new tracks that we may need to hear a little more for us to be used to them; holistically, the album is much more musically refined and ingenious, as a sense of freshness, organic melodies, and a unique sense of infusing together worship, indie, acoustic, folk and everything else in between, can be welded together with such vitality and enthusiasm…dare I say that Chris Llewelyn is perhaps one of worship’s most passionate and enthusiastic vocalists currently (alongside Lincoln Brewster)?
The album of 12 can be seen as an album of 3 sections- songs that have been from The Art Of Celebration, songs from As Family We Go and songs that don’t fit in anywhere else. Immediately from listening to the album, “My Lighthouse” was a song that stood out, like how it also did on the original 2014 album. Described as a song that reminds us all that He is indeed our lighthouse and source of power, light and direction, even during the moments where we are insistent that we don’t need a lighthouse at all, it is the arrangement of the track that creates a fresh and unique perspective on a song that I reckon is still one of the band’s most popular and impacting songs to date. With original lead singer Chris Llewelyn taking more of a back seat in delivering the song, and letting Ali Gilkeson (who normally does backing vocals) take the vocal lead on the track, it is nice to hear the song from a female vocal perspective, as I am reminded that it doesn’t matter who sings the song, but rather, the heart of the person singing it, and Ali is as passionate and enthusiastic, if not more so, than Chris. “More Than Conquerors” and “Simplicity” are the remaining tracks originally from The Art of Celebration, and while both these songs are shortened somewhat compared to their original recordings, neither have lost their intentionality and passion. “More Than Conquerors” speaks about how ‘…we are more than conquerors, through Christ, You have overcome this world, this life, we will not bow to sin or to shame, we are defiant in Your name…’ and is similar in theme to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song of the same name, while “Simplicity” is a timely reminder that is in the simplicity of our thoughts and the humbleness of our actions that we can be led and guided by God to where He is and where He wants us to be.
“You Will Never Run”, “Free As a Bird”, “Your Royal Blood”, “Every Giant Will Fall” and “Joy of the Lord” are the representatives from As Family We Go on the acoustically driven campfire-style, and while I may have preferred to hear additional songs like “One and Only” and “The Artist” redone; the 5 tracks are nevertheless a great array of songs from their latest that are given the ‘campfire’ treatment. Almost all these songs differ musically in their own way compared to the original recordings, especially “Every Giant Will Fall”- gone is the pop rock radio friendly melody as the upright bass, banjo, mandolin, rousing gang vocals and bagpipes are destined to present a different side to an already powerful track. “You Will Never Run” has more of a community presence, as hand claps, gang vocals that underpin the whole track, and a quickened pace, suggests the moment where this song, the first radio single from As Family We Go is transformed into a worship song that can be collectively sung by many, and while at times the song doesn’t really feel much of a redone track, just one listen to the original recording makes me appreciate how much of an effort Rend Collective have made to create songs that are the same, but different…horns in “You Will Never Run”? I can’t remember that before.
“Joy Of The Lord” and “Free as a Bird” are stripped down acoustically as both tracks are presented in such a way that we can appreciate the unique way the band has recreated the tracks- “Free as a Bird” is less frenzied, yet still enjoyable, while “Joy of the Lord” is lengthened by a full minute and a half, from a standard radio song to a joyous anthem that further makes my love for the track grow. “Your Royal Blood”, standing at close to 6 minutes, replaces the electric guitar with a simple acoustic one as this somewhat modern hymn that takes its inspiration from “Nothing But the Blood” is a reminder that yes, even modern day Christian contemporary artists can write songs that are given hymn-like status- while I reckon “Your Royal Blood” will have a long time yet before it is indeed given the status that songs like “In Christ Alone” and “10,000 Reasons” have before, the song by Rend Collective is nevertheless a highlight- on both As Family We Go and Campfire 2.
And then there’s the new tracks- a cover of “Oceans”, which, if we look at it from a broad standpoint, can seem a little bit redundant. Because honestly, are we really going to hear another cover of the song- I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love “Oceans”, but it’s been covered so many times- by artists like The Katinas, For a Season, Julie Elias, Shane and Shane, The Digital Age, Sixteen Cities, Tim Neufeld and HillaryJane…so what is so different about Rend Collective’s version that seemingly sets this recording apart from every other? Maybe it’s because of the enthusiasm that Rend Collective carries that makes me forget the fact that this original UNITED track is quite possibly one of the most overplayed songs on Christian radio in recent memory- and I guess because it is Rend Collective, it may make people enjoy a song that they probably would’ve just skipped if they heard the original version on their Spotify or Pandora playlist. “Live Alive”, quite possibly the next radio single from the band, is one of the two new tracks on Campfire 2, and while this song, standing at 3:28, is classic cliché CCM at its finest with the lyrically somewhat cheesy chorus of how ‘…I wanna live alive, I wanna live alive…don’t wanna live a lie…and You make me alive…’; the passion that is placed in the musical backdrop of the song makes me forget everything that I figured out was wrong with the track…even if I forget for the duration of the track. “Whatever Comes”, newly written track #2, is an acoustical song that reminds us all that whatever comes our way, God is our steadfast rock and whom we place our trust- a theme that is sung a lot of times before, but because of the way Rend Collective, and lead singer Chris Llewelyn delivers the track with such earnest passion; the song becomes a moment of reflection and realisation, that God is there in spite of our circumstances, rather than being present only during the times where life is good.
Rend Collective have always placed emphasis on strong lyrical content, which is still true on this second Campfire-style album. Their strong lyrical prowess, and their unique instrumentations that set the band apart from any other worship band of today, is what makes the album, and the band, special. And while they dropped their name ‘experiment’ a few years back, the band are still utilising their inimitable plethora of instruments to provide us all with powerful music and poignant lyrics as we reflect upon different versions of songs that have, I reckon, been some of the most underrated worship songs of last year as a whole. From the emotive ‘More than Conquerors’, which speaks of the boldness of following Christ, as we remember that we are indeed conquerors in Christ, and heirs to the throne, to the first official radio single “Live Alive”; this 12 track album is one that’ll be the most appreciated if you enjoy the modern alternate worship music genre, along the same musical lines of David Crowder, All Sons and Daughters, Leeland and The Digital Age. Along with Bluetree and Delirious?; Rend Collective is yet another band from the U.K. area whose influenced has reached across globally. With continual support in the U.S.; this is a band that will continue to reignite the passion of worship with their unique and different aspect on how worship should be and be delivered to those who hear it. A sense of realness and authenticity is created that will intrigue listeners to hear the songs from this amazing band. Well done guys for such an inspiring and enriching album.
4 songs to listen to: My Lighthouse, Live Alive, Joy of the Lord, Every Giant Will Fall
RIYL: Delirious?, Philippa Hanna, Tim Hughes, Bethel Music, All Sons and Daughters