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JFH Music Review

Chris Renzema, 'Manna'

Chris Renzema

Artist Info: Discography
Genre(s): Folk Rock / Pop
Album length: 12 tracks: 43 minutes, 14 seconds
Street Date: March 13, 2024


Chris Renzema continues his hot streak of excellent devotional pop songs, and it is being criminally overlooked. Yes, unfortunately, a large portion of the modern CCM fan base has missed his now fourth full-length album spanning the last six years. Renzema maintains his incredibly poetic, yet relatable lyrics with a thinking man's edge. I'm truly baffled as to why it doesn't seem 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. I highly encourage you to make the effort. By way of comparison artist-wise, think of the heart-on-the-sleeve approach of song-crafting similar to Jon Guerra, John Van Deusen, Taylor Leonhardt, and Andrew Peterson, and you get a pretty good idea of what to expect.

In 2023, Renzema took a similar approach to former labelmate Peabod, and rolled out Manna Pt. 1 through Centricity Music, leaving listeners and critics alike to playfully try and decide if those seven songs were an album or an EP. Returning now with five additional tunes and a full album simply titled Manna, we have our answer... sort of. Either way, Manna Pt. 1 was excellent, and the five new songs slot in nicely, further strengthening an already terrific set. These are some of the most arrestingly and refreshingly honest lyrics of both last year and 2024 so far. All this is set to primarily acoustic sonics with a smattering of electric-led moments for variety. Throw a dart and you'll hit a praiseworthy song, but I'll draw attention to a few select favorites.

"Narrow Road" stands out, utilizing gentle piano as Renzema reminds the listener of God's promise to be with us, saying, "You said it'd be a narrow road/This world would never be my home/The journey might be lonely, but I'll never be alone." My favorite musical moment of the album is from the song "Faith?!" which saunters with a wailing organ and a muscular guitar groove. 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 standouts 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'd of taken the fruit." I also resonate deeply with the track "All My Worst Ideas," which calls out the human propensity to elevate ourselves into the seat that only our creator should occupy, using allusions to the Tower of Babel and Icarus from Greek mythology lyrically.

Additionally, 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."

Taking his cues from Moses and other heroes of the faith, Chris is a young man determined to lean into a hopeful trust that God is good even when life is seemingly not. He isn't afraid to speak of his valleys or nights of the soul, and in so doing assures listeners that sometimes it's okay to not be okay. This is a much-needed and encouraging reminder that life isn't always safe for the whole family, and sometimes things don't work out by the end of the show metaphorically. All in all, this is to be commended and is a welcome reminder of God's faithfulness through the ages. This is another home run for Renzema and a stellar release. Ultimately, this set of songs is worthy of your time to sit with the lyrics to mine the layers of goodness. Manna has provided great encouragement for me, and I highly recommend it so that it could do the same for you.

- Review date: 3/13/24, written by Josh Balogh of

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. Record Label: Centricity Music
. Album length: 12 tracks: 43 minutes, 14 seconds
. Street Date: March 13, 2024
. Buy It: Apple Music
. Buy It: Amazon Music (MP3)

  1. Not Giving Up On You (3:31)
  2. Hereditary (feat. Jess Ray) (4:02)
  3. Holy Ghost (3:52)
  4. God & Prozac (4:3)
  5. Square One (3:49)
  6. My Heart Is A Stranger (3:27)
  7. Faith!? (4:02)
  8. A Four Chord Protest (2:17)
  9. Narrow Road (4:25)
  10. Manna (After All These Years) (4:25)
  11. All My Worst Ideas (4:33)
  12. ...I Still Love You... (0:43)



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