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Rebecca St. James - Pray

Review by Paul M. Carhart
Originally published in The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine (TLeM)

Rebecca St. James is of that rare breed of artist who is not only an exceptional performer and recording artist, but also possesses a vision and a specific ministry that she perceives that God has put before her. St. James' heart is called to the youth and her string of well-received albums has embodied messages targeted to that elusive genre.

Although it seems like quite some time since she released her controversially titled God album, St. James has now brought before us an entirely new collection of songs that should easily fill the time gap that we have all experienced. Every song on this project seems to have been carefully crafted to utilize the three E's common to a Rebecca St. James album: Enjoyment, Edification, and Encouragement.

In keeping with her one word album title pattern, Pray, as the new album is called, peppers this eleven track collection of catchy tunes and danceable beats with some new takes on some old standbys, three in all.

The first cover tune, Rich Mullins' classic "Hold Me Jesus", is an esoteric exploration of the nature of this extremely popular song. It seems as if St. James is not afraid to take chances on such a well known standard. She easily takes control perhaps in an attempt to make the song her own to the extent of combining verses, altering the melody in the chorus slightly and using repetition to underline the humanity and timeless message that Mullins had captured so well when he originally wrote the song. She succeeds in pulling off the transformation, although just barely. There was so much or Rich Mullins in this song, that it hard to listen to it without hearing his voice as well.

The second cover that one encounters on the album is the immortal Keith Green penned "Lord You're Beautiful" which survives a little more intact than "Hold Me Jesus". St. James turns in a beautiful and reverent performance on this track which is nothing less than pure worship. Certainly nothing to gripe about here unless you have a hard time with a weird little dance beat going on throughout this tender classic.

The last song on the album, actually the hidden track, is the last of the tunes that you might have heard elsewhere and probably the best. The traditional hymn, "Be Thou My Vision," is St. James at the top of her form. Although it seems to move a little fast at first due to her now trademark percussive backbeat, it isn't long before this beat transforms itself into it's own throbbing rhythm, allowing the arrangement, primarily keyboards, to soar over the beat just underneath St. James' own powerful vocal performance.

Again produced by Tedd T., the rest of the album has a very dancy feel to it, although it does manage admirably to keep the edge established on God by possessing some well placed guitar tracks, including the Batman-esque surf guitar throughout the verses of my personal favorite track on the album, "Come Quickly," which addresses the issue that Jesus actually is coming back, which I think is often played down if not downright forgotten in Christian music. In fact, the over riding theme of the original tracks on the project line up well with the songs she has covered: "Pray," (for which the album is named) "Give Myself Away," "Peace," "Mirror" and "I Love To Love You" are all about letting go and giving yourself to Jesus in order to become more like Him. It would, however, be difficult to draw a very good musical connection between God and Pray if one did not remember last year's St. James holiday release, Christmas, with which Pray actually has more in common with stylistically.

The only real downside to this project seems to be that there are only eight new St. James songs after one subtracts the covers mentioned above, which would be a skimpy album to say the least if the cover tunes were not so masterfully done. Taken together though, Pray certainly holds up to any expectations that long time fans might have had and even goes a little further by breaking a few rules and throwing in a surprise or two.


Related Information

For a year or so I was a CD reviewer for The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine (TLeM) where this review was originally published.

- Paul M. Carhart


  © 1998 Paul M. Carhart, all rights reserved, all media.