Some artists enter the studio determined to make a radical departure from who and what they are, or indulge some musical flavor of the month in a bid to expand the fan base. In either event, those strategies often backfire — though in staying true to his calling, GRAMMY® winner Chris Tomlin thinks not of popularity, but rather the populace his music can touch and encourage.
“I’m not trying to make a different kind of record,” says Tomlin of his latest effort, Love Ran Red “It’s still the same path I started down: writing songs for the church, songs people can sing, songs that connect with people in their heart and move them in a way only songs can. That’s not changed — and yet this collection I feel is the strongest I’ve ever done.”
That’s setting the bar quite high for his tenth studio recording, given that his last effort “Burning Lights” kicked off 2013 as a No. 1 album. It also led to sold-out tour dates, Billboard Music Awards, being named a BMI Songwriter of the Year and receiving the K-LOVE Fan Award for Male Vocalist of the Year and Dove Award for Songwriter of the Year.
Yet Love Ran Red picks up where its predecessor left off. True to its title, it expresses beating-heart faith and channels love’s ceaseless flow into a dozen songs to get the blood pumping and spirits soaring. To that end, Love Ran Red shows Tomlin reaching and stretching forward, even as he leans back on what’s always worked best. Produced by longtime friend and collaborator Ed Cash (Kari Jobe, Vince Gill, David Crowder* Band, Dave Barnes, Steven Curtis Chapman), the album strikes stirring tones of hope, praise and the peace found only in God’s presence.
The album’s first hit single, “Waterfall” conjures images of people dancing in the rain as Tomlin showers the listener with a call and response: “Your love is like a waterfall, waterfall/ Running wild and free/ You hear my heart when I call, when I call/ Deep calls to deep.” Then there’s “Jesus Loves Me,” the follow-up single. Kicking off with a regal, anthemic piano, the song rolls into thunderhead rhythm before hitting its thrilling, reassuring chorus: “Jesus how can it be? He loves me, he is for me.” Tomlin then declares, in a brilliant turn of phrase: “He holds the stars and holds my heart/ With healing hands that bear the scars.”It’s a very personal song for Tomlin, a songwriter not often known to go that route. “I sang it from somewhere deep inside,” he says. “You can’t outlive the presence of God, the love of God, and God will find you wherever you are. We can spend our whole lives learning all this grand theology of God. But at the end of the day it comes down to ‘Jesus loves me.’”
The track juxtaposes beautifully with “Almighty,” which also starts with solo piano but takes a different lyrical route. “It’s about the majesty of God, the holiness and beauty and complete otherness of God, where we come to worship him for who he is — this massive untouchable God—and bow as low as we can in his presence.” That majestic message collects musical momentum and might, keeping its sing-along appeal even as Tomlin celebrates God’s “sovereign crown of royalty.”
“I don’t think I can write a bigger song in my life than ‘Almighty,’” Tomlin says. “When I hear that opening melody, and that opening piano, it’s like a glimpse of heaven to me. And yet I don’t think I can write a more intimate song of grace than ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ It’s great that they’re both on this record together.” It’s also fortuitous that Tomlin included the latter track, which was written after he thought the album was done. “The funny thing is that you never know what songs will pop up,” he says. “Eleventh hour songs seem to be ones that are really special. That’s what’s so crazy and beautiful.”
The album takes its title from what Tomlin calls its “centerpiece lyric,” as heard on the song “At the Cross”: “Where your love ran red and my sin washed white/ I owe all to you, I owe all to you.” He couldn’t be more passionate about what that couplet represents, and how it describes his place in the musical landscape: “That’s the good news, what every church is trying to say to people, what the gospels point to,” he says. And with each song on this collection, Love Ran Red owes its sweeping scope to an artist seeking to enrich the worship experience. “So many of these songs are so easy for any church to do, and will also translate well to the concert setting,” Tomlin says. “Every song was really labored over and taken seriously, and so many songs were cut: There were 10 that didn’t make it.”
In fact, it took Tomlin seven months to craft, record and refine Love Ran Red, a long time dedicated to a record he hopes will last. This is, after all, the same Chris Tomlin who’s recorded modern-day worship classics such as “How Great Is Our God,” “Our God” and "Indescribable.” With 12 No. 1 radio singles, a GRAMMY® Award, eight additional nominations, three Billboard Music Awards, 21 Dove Awards, 5 gold and 2 platinum digital singles, a platinum and four gold albums to his credit, Chris Tomlin is among the most well-known and influential artists in contemporary Christian music. With 15 of the Top 100 CCLI songs, four of them being in the top ten, it’s estimated that more than 40 million men, women and children sing his songs each week, a statistic that moved TIME magazine to proclaim him “likely the most often sung artist anywhere.”
Yet for all the accolades, awards and recognition, it doesn’t get any better than the recent Sunday when he walked into a small church while working on Love Ran Red. Maybe 100 congregants were present. No one knew or recognized Tomlin, nor did he know a single soul. Then he listened with amazement and hushed humility as the church musicians performed several of his songs, including “Jesus Messiah” and “Whom Shall I Fear?” “It was a reminder that this is what I pray for, and that God gives me songs for,” he says. “It goes beyond me, or a person, or a Chris Tomlin song. To see that was encouraging to me in so many ways.”
So too has Tomlin encouraged so many with his bold and beautiful declarations of faith. Love Ran Red certainly builds on his ongoing mission, but there’s more to it that that. It also runs deep — and points to Jesus with more energy and enthusiasm than anything he’s recorded before.