Chris Renzema is on a hot streak and it's being criminally overlooked. Yes, unfortunately, a large portion of the modern CCM fan base have missed his now four full-length albums spanning the last five years. His devotional pop with its incredibly poetic, yet relatable lyrics isn't a perfect fit for radio, but to not make the effort to chase down his work means missing out on one of the best songwriters in recent memory. Think of the heart-on-the-sleeve approach of song-crafting like Jon Guerra, John Van Deusen, Taylor Leonhardt, or even Rich Mullins (though let's not get too carried away), and you get a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Taking a similar approach to former labelmate Peabod, Renzema rolls out Manna Pt. 1, all but assuring a part two. The seven tracks will leave listeners and critics alike to playfully try and decide if this is an album or an EP. Either way, it's excellent, with some of the most arrestingly and refreshingly honest lyrics of the year. All this is set to primarily acoustic sonics with a smattering of electric-led moments for variety. My favorite overall song is "Faith?!" which saunters with a wailing organ, piano, and a muscular electric guitar groove. It's been on repeat since it was released as a single and is in the running for my song of the year. Lyrically, the bridge hits hardest stating reassuringly, "Stepping out onto the water/Not sure if you'll sink or stand/I think fear's pretty normal/When you've only ever walked on land/'Cause to leap into the unknown/Is to walk by faith not sight/We all get scared of what we don't know/And maybe that's alright."
Other biggest highlights are found in the callout of all humanity (himself included), on "Hereditary," featuring guest vocalist Jess Ray (of Mission House). The following lyrics hit like a ton of bricks, as Ray sings, "Well I've stood by in disbelief/Watching the pastor pull up in a sports car to preach/About how blessed are the poor and blessed are the meek/And I can't help but see the irony/'Cause that same impulse lives in me too/Put me in the garden, I've taken the fruit."
Additional lyrical nuggets can be found among the trio of "Holy Ghost," "God & Prozac," and "Manna (After All These Years)." This stands out from the former, "And maybe that's just divine irony/As you try to see the forest for the trees/That through crooked teeth the Gospel's preached." Then "God & Prozac," has these heartrending lines, "The better part of my twenties/Spent writing songs about God/On a Prozac prescription/Doesn't that seem odd?/'Cause I believe in a gospel/And a God who is good/But these chemicals don't/Always work like they should." Lastly, "Manna (After All These Years)" lays out the theme of the record succinctly where Chris and his acoustic guitar close the album singing, "Whether or not I recognize the miracle hidden in the mundane/Oh, the bread of Heaven's offered either way."
This is still a young man determined to lean into a hopeful trust that God is good even when life is seemingly not, and that's to be commended. Overall, this is another home run for Renzema and I truly hope there is a "Pt.2" that is as stellar as the first part. Regardless, this set of songs is top-notch and worth your time to sit with the lyrics to mine their layers of goodness. I highly recommend it.- Review date: 9/15/23, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Centricity Music
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