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Rebecca St James is back!
By Martin Baggs
Rebecca St. James is back with a bang! April 2011 is a special month for her for two reasons: at 33 she is getting married for the first time, and she is releasing her first studio album in five years. This 10-song album is easily accessible and filled with upbeat and meaningful worship songs.
Rebecca has gone back to her roots: worship. Eight of the ten songs are new, and five of these are written by her; this is the strength of the album. Her lyrics flow from a heart sold out to Jesus. The twin themes of trust and surrender are evident. As she said in an interview, “I finally realized that I have to rely on Him.” The album opens with three powerful songs, each underscoring the subtheme of fearing no evil. “I will praise you,” the title track and first of her new songs, communicates the message of living in hope, not fear, even in the middle of the storms of life. It sets the tone and draws the listener in immediately. We are worshipping an awesome God from the get-go. The second track, “You Never Let Go,” is a cover of a Matt Redman song. Catchy and foot-tapping, this song will be familiar to many. It emphasizes God’s perfect love which casts out fear. The third track is her current single, “Shine Your Glory Down,” another of her creations. Of all the songs on this album, here her breathy voice is reminiscent of earlier albums. (You can hear the first three tracks at her listening party website: […]) If the album opens with worship, “Shine Your Glory Down” moves toward mission. Rebecca wrote this and wants to make an impact on the world for God and to shine for him. By being a light where we are placed, we can make a difference in the world; by loving the people around us with his love we can have an impact for his glory. And then “every heart will sing your praise.” After the pacing of this opening trilogy, the album slows down, becoming hauntingly melodic in places, although without diminishing in praise or worship. “You Still Amaze Me,” another St. James song, has echoes, lyrically, back to “Amazing Grace“. The fourth song written by her, “The Kindness of God,” offers a vehicle to show her vocal range. This track has a distinctive celtic sound, reminding me a little of the old hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.” Here the love of God comes out as a second subtheme of the album, and it is this love which casts out fear and forms the bedrock for trust and surrender. As the album moves through its second half, the songs get gentler and quieter, more worshipful and personal. “You Hold Me Now” looks ahead to the day when we will lock eyes with Jesus as he holds us close in heaven: “all my fears swept away in the light of your embrace.” The closing song, “You Make Everything Beautiful” is sung to piano and keyboard alone. With no percussion or guitars, this feels intimate. Having written it, St James is singing this as a personal prayer to God and we get to listen in, almost as eavesdroppers. A prayer of trust, she sings “in its time, in your time.” Not the best song on the album, yet it is a fitting close to the album. This serenity prayer surrenders to God, “purify my soul, beautify my soul,” a prayer we all can affirm and grasp. The wait was worth it. In his time God has gifted her with some terrific music and this will certainly be one of the best albums of the year. We’ll be singing these songs in church before she celebrates her first anniversary! Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
St. James’ Most Personal “Praise”
By Timothy Yap
Prime Cuts: I Will Praise You, You Never Let Go, You Hold Me Now “I Will Praise You” has been designated by St. James as her most personal album to date. After her most disappointing “If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something” where St. James literally hides her heart behind walls of electronic rock beats, this new disc finds her bearing her soul. Vocally, St. James sounds more relaxed, rejuvenated and more heartfelt. Maybe she connected more with the lyrics as she co-wrote 5 out of the 10 cuts here. Lyrically these tracks are by no means parochial. Rather, they are expressions of St. James earnest heart cries to God that are Biblically informed and poetically animated. Never one to be picket by one form of musical style–this new disc finds St. James damping in spry electronica, edgy pseudo-alternative, anthemic pop and heart wrenching balladry. This is thanks in part to new label honcho and producer Mark Miller. For the uninformed, Miller is the front man of the country group Sawyer Brown. And while the group was in hiatus, he had taken the seat of producing the latest discs for Bucky Covington and Casting Crowns. While St. James’ 2004 album “Live Worship–Blessed Be Your Name” was an entire cover affair, here she has restrained herself to only three cuts. The best being Hillsong’s recent worship staple “You Hold Me Now.” Sung in a key lower than the original with a more subdued ending, “You Hold Me Now” is one of the very few songs that address the issue of the beauty of heaven and how that beauty transforms our here and now. Matt Redman (who seems to be a favorite of St. James) gets another chance with “You Never Let Me Go.” Most satisfying is how the atmospheric guitars and the crashing drums build up to the chorus where St. James sings addictively, “Through the calm and through the storm/Oh no, You never let go/In every high and every low/Oh no, You never let go.” One Sonic Society’s “Almighty God” is the final cover–here St. James in her imitable way scampers to give expression to God’s grandeur in one of her most intense and dramatic performances ever. As for her originals, the title cut “I Will Praise You” finds St. James acquiesced to the current sounds of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga with its thumping drum beats and rhythmic groove. Yet she does not sell out as far as the lyrics are concerned: a gorgeous testimony of grounded trust in God regardless of our circumstances, this is worship tunes at its palatable best. “When the Stars Burn Down,” on the other hand, is a soothing ballad that is described by St. James as the “ultimate love song” where we meet Jesus the lover of our souls. While ‘The Kindness Of Our God’ takes on a Celtic detour accompanied by bagpipes and some soaring strings. Utilizing the prayer of St. Francis as its template, “You Make Everything Beautiful” is a piano ballad that exudes so much sincere warmth. Though a couple of tracks such as “In a Moment” and “Shine Your Glory Down” border along as average, this album as a whole is a vast improvement from St. James’ last studio album “If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something.” On the whole, it is more worshipful, more God-centered, more varied in its lyrically themes and melodies and certainly more heartfelt. You just have to agree with St. James that this truly is her at her personal best.
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