Hailing from Northern Ireland, Rend Collective has been making waves in the Christian music industry, and for good reason. Their style of worship exacerbates an infectious zealousness for Jesus and brings a fresh sound to a stale genre. Matching the passion they display in their recorded music, they relentlessly tour the United States and Europe and have been regularly releasing a new project almost every year since their full-length debut in 2010.
Rend Collective's latest release is the second installment of their Campfire series (third if you count their Christmas album), which features the band performing their favorite tracks from As Family We Go and The Art of Celebration, a cover of the Hillsong United's "Oceans" and two new songs. The idea behind these projects is to get back to the simplicity of wooden instruments and worship outside in community with close friends. Where Campfire I was recorded on a beach, Campfire II is set in the woods, but the sound quality is better than you'd expect for such an unconventional recording setting.
The album opens similarly to Campfire I, with lead singer Chris Llewellyn doing a short rendition of a famous Christian song--this time "This Little Light of Mine." As this quiet intro fades, Chris' confident vocals and strong acoustic guitar strumming lead us into a less frenzied (but still energetic) version of "Free As A Bird." The original was a highlight on last year's As Family We Go, and it flies just as high in this stripped-down translation. It's evident early on that, like Campfire I, this is no small project. These are fully re-imagined songs. Instruments are swapped. Song structures are altered. New parts are added. For example, "Every Giant Will Fall" is transformed from a run-of-the-mill pop-worship tune into a creative and engaging praise anthem. The slightly raw sound, a more enthusiastic vocal performance, a new bridge, and the addition of bagpipes all give this rendition a leg up on its predecessor. Other examples of changes include "My Lighthouse," which utilizes a jaunty piano and gives lead vocal duties to Ali Gilkeson, and "Your Royal Blood" which replaces the bluesy electric guitar riffs and strings with an acoustic guitar and horns. The original versions of these two songs are some of the band's best material, and though these translations are not quite as exceptional, they are still fantastic tracks.
Expanding on the theme of "This Little Light of Mine," the brand new song "Live Alive" is a spirited track with an acoustic guitar, upright bass, accordion, banjo and a various assortment of percussions. The lyrics may feel commonplace for CCM ("I want to live alive / and You make me alive"), but the delivery is earnest and the execution is catchy and singable. The other new track is "Whatever Comes." Musically, it's the slowest and most simplistic song on the album (ironically not "Simplicity") with just vocals, acoustic guitar picking and a cello. Lyrically, it serves as a prayer to God for perseverance through difficult times.
Living up to their self-proclaimed "celebration band" title, Rend Collective has put out yet another joyous and inspiring release with Campfire II: Simplicity. What's most impressive is how, despite the plethora of instruments and stellar recording quality, the album still has an off-the-cuff vibe you'd imagine from a campfire worship jam session. The live setting is used effectively, with select clapping and cheering from the small audience, and occasionally bringing the production down to highlight the intimate feel (such as the end of "Your Royal Blood"). A couple songs could have been trimmed a bit, but overall, Campfire II is a no-brainer purchase for fans of the band, and if you've never gotten into them before, this is a great place to start.
- Review date: 10/3/16, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com