Boise, Idaho, pop/rock artist Ryan Stevenson makes music under the credence that some of the most reflective moments of worship exist not as a result of “mount-top experiences,” but from difficult experiences. This credence is so clearly reflective on his 2013 release, Holding Nothing Back EP.
The four-track set launches with “Holding Nothing Back,” a keys-driven melodic tune that is perhaps one of the most vulnerable revelations on the EP. “I’ll be the first to say/I’ve chased after so many foolish things,” he sings, before taking it back to the crux of the album in the chorus: “Jesus, I’m holding nothing back from You.” Some of the best lyrics are ones that reveal a human ache many of us can relate to — the search for something bigger outside of our own selves. He recognizes this so clearly on this song from the beginning: “Behind this curtain/There is a heart that’s hurting.” He’s been “dodging bullets” and “he’s exhausted,” something I think everyone can relate to. But these trials are redeemed so effortlessly in the chorus as he declares, “Jesus, I don’t want anything/Coming in between You and me.”
The second track, “The Human Side,” dives even deeper into this idea that we all experience trials on a day to day basis, no matter how strong our faith may be. “I’m feeling/Like I’m too far gone,” he sings, but as the drums and guitars pick up in the chorus, so does his spirit: “Your love keeps showing me/You understand the human side of me.” Stevenson’s lyrical ability really shines on this song. As a Christian singer/songwriter, it’s tough to write songs that will appeal to a wide audience, some of whom may be closed off to a sing that directly references “Jesus.” But he hits the nail with it on this song. Just as Switchfoot has been doing for years, singing about being lost in a world that’s so tough, but finding peace in knowing there’s a higher purpose for getting out of bed each morning. From the driving guitar melodies to the crashing drums in the chorus, this is one of my favorite songs on the EP.
The third song, the upbeat “Lead The Way,” is a bit of a diversion from the first two songs. It takes on more of a pop feel, and incorporates less guitars, but displays Stevenson’s diverse talent. While the first two songs dealt with heartache and sadness, this song definitely rejoices in the fact that we have someone to “lead the way” for us. The final song of the album is an acoustic cover of tobyMac’s “Speak Life,” which Stevenson co-wrote with Jamie Moore and tobyMac. I may just be a fan of songs arranged in more of an acoustic style, but that’s where I think Stevenson really shines.
The song ends with: “Some days, life feels perfect,” bringing the EP full circle, from singing of human pain to rejoicing in how awesome life is sometimes. I love when albums can do that.