Release Date: June 4th 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Riley Clemmons – Godsend (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Keep on Hoping
- A Little Faith
- Fighting For Me
- Stuck Inside My Head
- When Nothing Hurts
- Over and Over (feat. Lauren Alaina)
- I’m Not Alone
- In This Moment
After such a whirlwind music career ever since she debuted her self-titled album in 2018, featuring standout songs like ‘Broken Prayers’, ‘Hold On’, ‘Broke’ and ‘Better For It’, to name a few; Riley Clemmons has been giving to us, hit after hit after hit. In 2019, Riley unveiled the chart-topping single ‘Fighting For Me’ alongside the up-and-coming emotive and poignant song ‘Free’ later on during the year. She also gave to us a Christmas EP that was released late 2019, that featured songs like ‘Last Christmas’, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Silent Night’, to name a few. 2020 came, and with the unfortunate and devastating COVID-19, Riley unveiled ‘Over and Over’, a crossover hit, that she recorded initially by herself, and then once again with country up-and-comer Lauren Alaina. The song itself has been a great blessing for myself throughout 2020; and was a song that I often turned to for inspiration. The song could’ve done well at country radio if it was promoted that way, and thus, ‘Over And Over’ was a lost opportunity for country radio. Now in 2021 upon the backs of Riley’s powerful and compelling single ‘Healing’, we saw another song come to light in the form of ‘Keep on Hoping’, a song that encourages us to never give up hope, hope in God, in ourselves, in the people around us, to never lose sight of what we are fighting for, especially during moments of uncertainty and trials. Now fast-forward to June 2021, and Riley’s now unveiled to us her sophomore album Godsend– follow-up to Riley Clemmons and containing the songs like ‘Fighting For Me’, ‘Over And Over’ and ‘Healing’. One of my favourite 2021 albums thus far, Godsend encourages us all in this time of uncertainty which is COVID-19, and for me, is on par with Bridge Over Troubled Dreams (Delta Goodrem), Departures (Jon Foreman), The Lucky Ones (Pentatonix), Nothing Is Ordinary. Everything is Beautiful (Apollo LTD) and inhale [exhale] (MercyMe) as one of my favourite 2021 albums to date.
‘…as I was writing and dreaming up this record, there was never a plan to create anything but honest music, born from hurting, growing, and healing. I collected songs for this body of work much like I collected every experience I found myself in the middle of over the past couple of years… the highs & lows, the conversations with God, the questions about my identity, the heartbreak and the healing. The thread that began to connect them all quickly became the idea that maybe “every broken place I’ve been was a Godsend.” My hope is that anyone who listens might find themselves somewhere in these melodies and stories and be reminded that so much of the pain, healing, and joy we experience is more common and unifying than we could ever imagine. I am truly grateful for every single hand, mind, and heart that touched this album. I’m grateful for every single individual who has so kindly supported and listened to my music & this record. I’m grateful to my team, my co-creators, and my family. Nothing like this is possible without support, patience, love, and a gigantic team of wonderfully talented individuals. Thank you God – You are the Truth, Inspiration, and Reason for it all. Thank you, thank you, thank you. “Godsend” is yours now…’
Riley has been an up-and-coming artist I’ve enjoyed for quite some time now, ever since her debut self-titled album released in 2018. I reviewed the album for the site here, and now a few years later with the unveiling of Godsend, I figured that it was time to share my thoughts about Riley’s sophomore album, and how it stacks up, not only to her debut, but to other pop albums released in 2021 thus far. Let me just say that with the level of lyrical maturity, enthusiasm, and passion on not only Godsend but on Riley Clemmons as well, you’d be forgiven to think that Riley’s age is older than what she really is. Only 21 (she was 18 when she released her debut album, and 17 when she recorded it) at the time of Godsend’s release, Riley’s ability to craft music with a vocal that is virtually unparalleled in the realms of female artists in CCM today (maybe artists like Hollyn, Hannah Kerr, Lauren Daigle and Leanna Crawford can give Riley a run for her money, vocally), and her album Godsend is no different. Standing at 12 tracks, and featuring songs like ‘Healing’, ‘Fighting For Me’ and ‘Over and Over’ (the crossover radio hit featuring Lauren Alania), this is by far Riley’s most accomplished, refined, passionate and meaningful album to date. Not to say that Riley Clemmons the album isn’t good- songs like ‘Broken Prayers’, ‘Better For It’, ‘Running After You’, ‘Honest’ and ‘Broke’ are some of pop music’s most emotive songs of that particular year, out of both CCM and mainstream. It’s just that it’s rare to currently find an artist grounded in the faith that they have, delivering pop music which is similar and akin to that of Selena Gomez, Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Avril Lavigne and Cimorelli, and for it to be good as well. Riley’s trajectory in both CCM and mainstream (because let’s face it, through both Godsend and Riley Clemmons, there’s almost a certainty and even a guarantee, that her next album, whenever that is, will be much more mainstream-music accessible) has reached a new height with her new album, and as I’ve continued to assert Riley’s relevance, not only in CCM but maybe, just maybe, in modern music right now, I’ve come to state this one thing- that God can still use you for our good and His glory, no matter what age we are, or what we believe our limitations on ourselves can be. Riley may be 21, but her music is so much wiser beyond her years; and is a music artist I currently admire.
‘Fighting For Me’ released in 2019; and was the first glimpse from Riley into new music other than her debut album, and while at that time I initially thought it was going to be a one-time single from her, I am pleased that this song is attached to Godsend as track #5. Recorded around 2 years ago, this is a track full of life and stirring emotion, over keys and looping percussion, that God will fight our battles for us, fighting with us, behind us, and in front of us. While the concept of the song can seem a little ‘been there done that’ in terms of other CCM artists delivering songs with similar themes (‘Fighting For You’ by Adam Agee, ‘The God Who Stays’ by Matthew West, ‘God’s Not Done With You’ by Tauren Wells), I find myself coming back to Riley’s song again and again. Her hopeful lyrics are stirring, and the song itself can hopefully have crossover and mainstream success in the future (Why not? ‘Over And Over’ has crossed over to hopefully ‘win’ some country music fans with the collaboration with Lauren Alaina). And thus, ‘Fighting For Me’ is a reminder to all of us, that Jesus is close on the days where we feel far from Him, fighting for us, even especially on the days where we actually want to be far from Him, for whatever reason. Happy and infectiously joyous, we can’t stop but declare the heartfelt lyrics of the chorus, and be reminded, sometimes on a daily basis, that ‘…You will never stop fighting for me, when I can’t fight for myself, every word is a promise You keep, cause You love me like nobody else, You stand up for me in the darkest night, when my faith is weak, You’re still by my side…’ As Riley herself reminds us all, through a behind-the-song devotional on NRT, ‘…one of my life verses is Romans 8:28. It always pops up in my life: good and bad moments alike. I find a lot of peace there. Now, more than anything, I feel like I’m beginning to touch the surface of what ‘peace beyond understanding’ means. It’s been a beautiful unveiling that has been interwoven through this past year, as I wonder how I could feel peace in stressful moments. That’s all God. In His perfect timing, He will make all things right. My pastor shared, “If your problems seem too big or too impossible, then you aren’t thinking of God as big enough, because God can.” That’s the beautiful thing about God. He sees us. His heart is of kindness and acceptance. I hope “Fighting For Me” reminds people of how valued and worthy they are, and how God sees our flaws and accepts them. Every single song that I’ve recorded so far is based on my real-life experiences. I love storytelling. It connects us all. There’s so much power and testimony in sharing what we go through. I encourage everyone to share their stories. There is comfort and peace there…’
‘Over and Over’, ‘Keep on Hoping’ and ‘Healing’ are the three other songs (not inclusive of ‘Free’ which is unfortunately not on Godsend) released throughout 2020/21 that are included here on Godsend, and together with ‘Fighting For Me’, make up some of my standouts on the album as a whole. As I’ve listened to the song ‘Over and Over’ from whence it released in February 2020 till now, I can say that together with ‘Broken Prayers’, it’s my favourite song from Riley, ever. With the collaboration with country superstar Lauren Alaina being featured on Godsend, this duet with one of country music’s rising stars is what I believe will become a catalyst for Riley to maybe even crossover musically and sonically into the country music landscape in the future. Maybe collaborations with Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell or Cassadee Pope in the future?
‘…this particular songwriting session was super special to me. I was talking with my label about writing this song. We discussed who I’d like to meet with to co-write it. I picked three of my favorite songwriters. I normally start a session talking about what’s going on in my life at that moment, taking that and finding a title and lyrics, based on that situation. For this song, I had been at church the day before. The pastor preached about what it means to recommit yourself to God every day. In a personal way, for me, that’s waking up every day and making the decision to choose God, over and over again. More so that I’m in awe of the fact that somehow I’ve been chosen to be a child of the God of the universe every single day, over and over again. Really, this song came from a place of just being in awe of God’s grace that doesn’t ask for anything back…from an honest place, a human struggle, especially as a young woman, is dealing with wanting approval from others. You have this desire to be chosen, to be looked at in a crowd, and to have someone pick you. What does that look like coming from the God of the universe? That’s what this song is about for me. The first line of the song addresses the insecurities we deal with as we face our repeated mistakes. God’s mercies are new every morning. Grace isn’t something you can work towards or achieve. Christianity is about knowing that there’s no checklist of things we can do to achieve God’s grace and mercy. This song comes from a place of awe and joy of knowing that this is something I’m freely given by God every single day, over and over again. This song is about taking the Word of God and living it out in life every day…’
It is in this quote above, that I’ve come to understand the message behind this song, and in light of that, I’m enjoying the execution of it quite well- there’s gospel backing vocals, there’s powerful drums and a swaying beat that is very catchy while also quite meaningful. And there’s Lauren Alania…so what more can we ask for? No, seriously though, this song has one killer message- God shows us that we are His, that we’re blessed, that we have everything we need, over and over again, often on a daily basis. ‘Over and Over’ is a song not only showing us that God shows us things over and over, but we as children of God have to make the decision, conscious one at that, if we want to follow Jesus- over and over again each day. God presents us this case- Jesus; and we have to respond. He gives the gift of grace, and we have to choose. Over and over, each day, knowing full well that what we do or say is no determinant on how we are loved or accepted. God cares for us in spite of what we do or don’t do. ‘Over and Over’ just hopefully gives us all a little push in the right decision as we see whether this Jesus-thing is good enough for us to keep choosing it everyday.
‘Healing’ released in late 2020, and upon first listen, sounds like a mainstream song that someone like Hailee Steinfeld, Demi Lovato, Little Mix or Camilla Cabello would record, undertake, and even excel at- because to be honest, ‘Healing’ isn’t necessarily a song that people can pick out from a lineup and notice the Christian influences…because from first listen, you’d be almost forgiven to think that it wasn’t a Christian song, let alone a song even sung by Riley Clemmons. And despite all of this, I still firmly believe that ‘Healing’ can provide healing in weeks, months, even years to come, as a song coming out during COVID-19 titled ‘Healing’, without it being super-preachy…I mean, God uses Balaam’s donkey to speak to him in the Old Testament, so I’m sure that Riley’s song can encourage and impact people. And the song has. Comforted people during such a horrid year of 2020. And is perhaps still comforting people throughout 2021 as well. And as Riley herself explains through a similar blog post on NRT, ‘…God’s promise of healing has never been as close as it is now. It turned from writing a song that I needed to hear to share it with others who needed to hear that same message. For me, the ultimate hope is the gospel, and the gospel is the ultimate story of healing. God is our source of healing. He’s also our source of hope. That’s how I was able to write this song for my sister. To get that affirmation from Him. My sister and I are two years apart. We’re super close. The privilege of getting to know somebody inside out is to get to know their struggles as well. The idea of this song is to take something broke that we all have and wounds that we can’t cover with a band-aid, then look inside and ask for healing from God (you can also find healing from doctors and therapists). I hope more than anything, that listeners are reminded that there is hope. Even when it feels like the end. Even when you feel broken. I hope “Healing” reminds you that there’s a way to find strength through pain, that what was broken can stand again, and that after the hurting comes healing. God is the ultimate source of grace. Jesus paid it all so that we can have grace freely…’
With the song bearing a more overt Christian message than a lot of her songs in the past, ‘Keep on Hoping’ is a great and timely song to be unveiled, especially in 2021, when things aren’t as much better than 2020. To hope is to place your trust and faith into something unseen, something undetermined, but still praying that whatever possible outcome that occurs, will still move us all as a people towards a better tomorrow, in a way that we all can reflect within ourselves about what our own roles are in the society that we are in. ‘Keep on Hoping’ encourages us to never give up hope, hope in God, in ourselves, in the people around us, to never lose sight of what we are fighting for, especially during moments of uncertainty and trials. This is a song that can possibly become as big as ‘Broken Prayers’…I can smell it! Riley’s song has come at just the right time in this tumultuous year, and after such a downer of 2020, such a song as this, can hopefully (no pun intended) lift our spirits and allow us to hope again once more, to place our trust and faith into something bigger than ourselves, and to relinquish the control on our situations, and rest in that the God who created us, will ultimately use whatever circumstance in life, good or bad, to impact and challenge our very beings, and to make us into the better people He is shaping us to become.
Throughout the rest of the album, Riley continues to present tracks of honesty, joyous moments of praise, and points of reflection as this album Godsend continues to remind us that even during the bad moments of our lives, God is still in control, that maybe, just maybe, the difficulties we experience can be a godsend, in regard to what we have learnt in the process through the ordeals we go through. ‘A Little Faith’ ventures into gospel and reggae territory, as Riley employs light synths, electric guitars and a jive-beat in a song that encourages us to lean on our faith for issues that seem to be a little harder than what we can naturally go through in our own strength- the song reminds us all, that even if we have a little faith (faith as small as a mustard seed, as shown in Matthew 17:20), what we can do with it, may be so much more than what we can even realise. Both ‘Stuck Inside My Head’ and ‘Headspace’ follow, and both these songs reference Riley’s personal life, in specific fashion, a past relationship with someone that ended in a way that maybe Riley herself didn’t anticipate, but nevertheless, she felt as if she was going back to said relationship and reminiscing, again and again, instead of moving forward. ‘Stuck Inside My Head’ chronologically tells some of the thoughts she may have had in the initial aftermath of the relationship breakup, and the real feelings people often have- thinking about an ex on a continual basis while trying to move on, is not uncommon for people going through breakups. ‘Headspace’ follows along from the groovy ‘Stuck Inside My Head’, and it is where Riley is- in a place of accepting that what once held you down, shouldn’t be occupying your headspace any more, that what seems to be dragging you to the past, and all the seemingly ‘nice’ memories it’s conjuring up about the relationship, is simultaneously hindering you from a future God Himself has intended. ‘Headspace’ can hopefully allow people to cut off things in their life they know should be rid of, but also acknowledge that clinging to something can still be ok- if we know that through God’s help, whatever we believe should be salvaged, can be. ‘When Nothing Hurts’ challenges us all to this sobering truth that is unfortunate but true- that we often go to God more when things are going bad, than when things are going good. We pray to the Lord for this and that, and we go to God because that’s all we can do, but ‘when nothing hurts’, do we really go to God in thanks and prayer, in joy and adoration because we know that in the good times, God is the one orchestrating it all, that what we believe that has been done in our own strength is actually the Lord’s? This song encourages us to go to God ‘when nothing hurts’, as we’re reminded to declare God’s goodness, in all times. ‘Irreplaceable’, a potential radio single in the future, shows us all the reasons why God sees and values us, deems us as ‘irreplaceable’, and reminds us all, of the reasons why He came to save us from death, hell and the grave, through Christ Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection- simply because we are His creation and He is the creator, longing for us to be reconciled back to Him; while ‘In this Moment’ gives the listener comfort in the understanding that ‘…you are worthy without having something perfect to show Him, and He hears every prayer even when they’re coming out broken, and trust me, I know you feel so alone, you think you’ll find Him once you get where you’re going, but He’s right here in this moment…’ Sometimes we often think that God is somewhere off in the distance, or we have to attain this, or become this or that, in order for us to even be worthy enough to even think about asking God about this or that- and yet, this song couters everything we’ve been taught, that God is here, God is in the moments we often think He isn’t, and that He can take all of our unanswered questions, our worries, fears and doubts.
Riley then rounds out the album with personal piano-led ‘Godsend’ and ‘I’m Not Alone’, arguably one of Riley’s most personal songs ever. ‘I’m Not Alone’ was a song Riley had in her iPhone as a demo, for years before even looking at it. As Riley herself says, ‘…this song had lived in my phone as a demo for a long time, until about a year ago, when I posted a video singing it, just me & a piano. You guys kept asking for it, so we wanted to give it to you. This one is so special to me. Now it’s yours…’ The title track, and one of the most hauntingly refreshing, and vulnerable moment of realisation on the album for Riley, is this: that things that happen in life are often godsend’s when we don’t even see it or even believe it. As Riley herself surmises, ‘…I had the word ‘Godsend’ saved in the notes section on my phone for probably the last four years. I knew that I wanted to call my record Godsend, and I knew I wanted a track on the record to be called Godsend as well, but I didn’t know how to write it. So I saved it and held on to it because I wanted to do it justice. So in April 2020, just pulled off the road, the world is shutting down, no one really knows what is going on, I was sitting on my bedroom floor. A busy year had suddenly turned to dust, and I just remember staring at my little dinky keyboard that I’ve had since middle school and thinking, “okay, I think now is the time to write it.” So I hopped on a Zoom write with Emily Weisband and Colby Wedgeworth, and it all started with the line “what if maybe every broken place I’ve been was a Godsend.” And we built the song on that idea and concept. And from there, the rest of the album was created with that as the foundation…’
Riley’s new album Godsend, followup from her debut album, and an album full of maturity and heartfelt songs of encouragement, is a powerful collection of songs that’s almost certain to allow Riley a foot in the door of mainstream music. Whether she even wants to, is a different story. Nevertheless, this is an album that’s certain to make waves in CCM; and make waves in places that God will allow next…maybe pop, maybe country, but whatever the case, Riley has still crafted an album that will resonate with people around the world in the upcoming weeks ahead. Whether or not Riley’s album will become as popular as any other pop/CCM album released in 2021, 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 a 21 year old singer-songwriter whose music writing and singing is far beyond her years- this is a must-have for anyone who is a fan of similar Christian artists like Britt Nicole, Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli or Hollyn, or even mainstream sensations like Selena Gomez, Lauren Alaina, or even Cimorelli. Well done Riley for the album, eagerly anticipating the next single after ‘Keep on Hoping’, whenever that arises!
3 songs to listen to: Over and Over, Keep on Hoping, Fighting For Me
RIYL: Lauren Alaina, Francesca Battistelli, Selena Gomez, Lauren Daigle, Britt Nicole