Chris Renzema has been on a steady rise since his indie acoustic-based worship album, I'll Be the Branches, garnered him critical praise and over 36 million streams on the strength of the song "How To Be Yours." Signing to Centricity and making his label debut with Let the Ground Rest two years later in 2020, he continued his momentum forward with over 800,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, signifying no sophomore slump. Clearly, Renzema’s devotional pop has struck a chord, and he appears to be here to stay. This is a positive thing as he has been one of the better up-and-coming lyricists in CCM with an increasingly diverse musical palate.
2021 finds Chris dropping a quick follow-up just over a year after Let The Ground Rest, utilizing the extra time while unable to tour due to the pandemic. Album three is called Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart and features more of the thoughtful, heartfelt lyrics and singer-songwriter ethic for which he is becoming increasingly known. So how does it measure up to his previous work? In a few words, it is a good, though safe follow-up, just a step below its predecessor. Truth be told, my biggest critique of the album may be the track order, which feels uneven and does a disservice to the strength of the songs. To my ears, it seems that a more immediately engaging sequence would have started the album with the upbeat tune "Without You" rather than the more subdued "Hope or Nostalgia." Although I understand the reasoning for the thesis setting, it didn't start the album on a captivating trajectory. In addition, the album's lyrical content doesn't strike me as up to par with Renzema’s first two releases, but it doesn’t miss by much. The biggest highlights are “Without You,” “Stronger Love,” “Old Friend,” “No Body,” “Just As Good," and lastly, "The Right Things." The driving guitar-based "Without You" is the most energetic Renzema tune to date and a nice stretch past his mid-tempo comfort zone. Similarly, "Old Friend" has an upbeat vibe with a catchy lead guitar line and satisfying hook, with the latter half of the song standing out most. Both songs are musically interesting but are held back by slightly repetitive lyrics. In addition, the trio of guest spots from Leeland, Matt Maher, and Ellie Holcomb on the earnest “Stronger Love,” the tender “No Body," and the great reminder of God’s unchanging goodness in “Just as Good,” are album high points respectively. (Plus, gold star kudos to the latter for only the second usage of “Ebenezer” in a song lyric to my memory.)
Lyrically, the lines that stick out most are the opening couplets from "Stronger Love" where Chris sings, "This chip on my shoulder/feels like a mountainside/trying to climb it, but it's way too high/been pointing my finger/with a log in my own eye/it's like forgiveness in short supply." Also, "Right Things" has a great reminder of what to hold onto and what to let go stating, "But I wanna hold on to the right things/And let go of the rest/'Cause time's worth more than money/And I'm done buying what won't last/'Cause the years are just a vapor/And this life is just a breath/I wanna hold on to the right things/And let go of the rest."
Roughly half the album stands out as superb, with the rest falling in the solid category. Overall, Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart is good, but I can't quite put my finger on what doesn't grab me as much as his previous two releases. Maybe there hasn't been enough time with Let the Ground Rest, or perhaps the lyrics tread cliche, or maybe I'm just being too picky. Regardless, measuring the new album against his prior discography may be a mistake. On its own merit, it lines up as one of the better devotional pop records of the year. Track sequencing aside, I could still see Renzema’s newest make a play for my year-end top ten list as I spend more time with it throughout the rest of the calendar year. If you're already a fan, there is plenty present to grab hold of. Also, I'd highly recommend this to listeners currently unfamiliar with his work on the hunt for strong lyricism and catchy pop musicality. If you are just looking for songs to add to your playlist, "Without You," "Old Friend," "Stronger Love," and "Still Just As Good" are a great place to start. Ultimately, with Get Out of the Way of Your Own Heart, Chris Renzema has another worthwhile record to share with his growing fan base and another excellent addition to his discography.- Review date: 9/2/21, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Centricity Music
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