Love Ran RedLove Ran Red (sixstepsrecords)

Chris Tomlin

Acclaimed worship artist Chris Tomlin returns with Love Ran Red, his follow-up to the record-breaking Burning Lights, which joined a very select few (four, by some counts*) Christian albums to ever reach number one on Billboard’s overall albums chart. This is rarefied air, so each new Tomlin release will be met with heightened anticipation. For some, such a pressure-cooker could be tough to handle, but Tomlin seems to be settling quite well into life as a worship leader, artist, and family man.

Clearly, Tomlin’s impact, and the Passion engine that helps drive it, show no signs of waning. It makes sense, then, that the new album tends to follow a well-established pattern consisting of a few key elements: worship music written with the congregation in mind; recycling of tunes introduced at a previous Passion conference and live album; and a mix of tempos, to provide moments of jump-up-and-down exaltation alongside quieter emotional devotion. (It’s worth mentioning that, for the most part, Tomlin eschews the oft-scrutinized banal repetition so prevalent in modern worship music.)

Jubilant radio single “Waterfall” fills the up-tempo loop-laden mold of “God’s Great Dance Floor,” and “Boundary Lines” continues the trend. The latter is a take on Psalm 16 that features brief but interesting lyrics, simply because that’s a great Psalm. “The Roar” is a good Narnian praise song that suffers from the recent ubiquity of “God’s Not Dead” and its similar lion motif. This lion song voices a powerful promise: God desires us so much that even when we would hide from Him, like Adam and Eve after the fall, He reaches out to us.

Tomlin is aware of his strike zone, and he doesn’t often reach for pitches outside it. There are hints of stretches on Love Ran Red, like the bit of soul and gospel on “At the Table,” but it’s clear even on that track that while the song is a good one, Tomlin doesn’t seem to feel like that’s his forte. That said, the hint of banjo-jangle behind “Fear Not” works well. Remember, Tomlin was raised on Texas-style country and western music, so an occasional venture into similar genres should come as no surprise.

So, if these songs are in the Tomlin strike zone, does he connect? With apologies for the extended baseball metaphor, Love Ran Red is probably a triple. The songs are well done. The tempo is varied throughout, with perhaps fewer songs than on past albums that feel like filler. Every now and then, though, there’s a hint of some greater possibility. At the end of “I Will Boast,” the eleventh track on the album, a gentle piano plays a coda from “At The Cross (Love Ran Red).” It’s a brilliant tag, linking a pair of songs with the same focus, like two pairs of eyes looking on the cross from different perspectives. It makes one wonder what Tomlin could do with a concept album, or at least a strong and consistent theme.

There are no huge risks here. There is no eyebrow-raising sound. Instead, there is Chris Tomlin, at the top of his game.

*In case you’re wondering which other Christian albums topped the Billboard 200, here’s one list: Bob Carlisle – Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace), LeAnne Rimes – You Light Up My Life (Inspirational Songs), TobyMac – Eye On It, and, most recently, Lecrae – Anomaly.