In the interest of full journalistic disclosure, the concept of faith-based rock and roll leaves me cold. This music was designed to be the devil’s music, chock-full or rebellion that celebrates the joys of sex, drugs, and the like!
The sounds from what I would call “caucasian gospel” leaves me as a listener suspicious of the soulless show of a tele-preacher trying to save my soul.
The Rend Collective Experiment changes all of that. This group of friends from Northern Ireland says they are collectively wondering how to make sense of the conundrum of life, God and community.
This movement of 20-somethings grew into a collective of musicians and artists trying to share with the world what they were learning. With melodies, harmonic progression and lyrics that are scriptural and contemporary, fresh and ancient, Rend Collective is a nod to the places in Scripture where it says to “rend your hearts” and not your garments, a bold call to be genuine.
Rend, as they are often called, have recorded three critically acclaimed projects -- Organic Family Hymnal, Homemade Worship By Handmade People, and their latest, a compilation of the two called Campfire Songs. The band has been making waves all over the planet, with a string of dates here this summer.
They make a joyous racket that rides the wave of popular Appalachian roots music that includes the like of Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers.
“Lord, we open up our hearts to you. We let down our walls/sing my soul, Llewellyn chants on the infectious “Come On,” the opener for Campfire Songs.
The foot-stomping joy provides the percussion that drives a melody that is impossible to get out of your head. “It’s time to look up,” they sing in the chorus. Even a jaundiced eye like mine got misty at the prospect.
“You Bled” has great lines like, “you gave your beauty for my ugliness” that is vague enough to double as both a praise of God and a love song to someone here on earth. It calls to mind the uncanny lyrical ability of Bono, who paints in vague and specifics with the same brushstroke.
Band members include leader and drummer Gareth Gilkeson, Will Herron and Chris Llewellyn on lead vocals and guitar, Ali Gilkeson on percussion and keyboards, Bridget Herron on brass and accordion and Patrick Thompson on bass.
As the title would suggest, the entire album was recorded around a campfire on a beach in Northern Ireland. The old hymn “You Are My Vision” has a lazy banjo riff and fiddling flourish that is not only gorgeous, it creates a genre of music called “Irish worship rock” in the same way the Pogues single-handedly created “Celtic punk rock” three decades ago.
“I lift my voice to praise you/my concrete heart won’t stop me/I’ll sing like its the first time/I’ll leave behind the cynic in my soul,” they sing on “Praise Like Fireworks/Praise,” the album’s exuberant closer.
It’s as if they were singing this about me, and as I close the last paragraph of this review, I find myself needing to repent for the first paragraph.