To me, Rebecca St. James has always seemed like a Christian Music artist searching for an identity. When she first came on the scene in 1994 with "Here I Am" (Rebecca St. James), her music acquiesced to the pop formula of the day – lots of keyboards, not too fast, and syrupy sweet. Then came her edgy pseudo-alternative phase, where her music became more guitar-driven to stay up with the changing tide in Christian Music. This seemed a mismatch between the driving distorted guitar-driven music and Rebecca's smooth minimalist vocal style. After that came her modern worship phase where she released studio and live albums of worship music. But who in Christian Music isn't doing that? So who is the real Rebecca and what style would SHE want to sing? What is HER musical identity?
Fast-forward to 2011, where Rebecca St. James has much to be thankful for – a new record label, a pending wedding, and a new record. I Will Praise You is the first release with new compositions from St. James in 6 years, with only 2 cover songs within the collection. This is definitely a more mature sound for St. James, as if she's found where she fits in the genre. For music-philes, you'll really appreciate the artistic balance between guitars and keyboards. The interplay between these two instruments evokes the multi-dimensional work of Jars of Clay, where both guitars and keys contribute to, rather than compete in the music.
The title track and first radio release, "I Will Praise You", is a great out-of-the-gate upbeat anthem, with its throbbing bass drum and vocals gliding over the beat. The 1 cover on the CD is the congregational worship standard "You Never Let Go", which is executed without any surprises.
"Shine Your Glory Down" is probably going to also be a radio release as well, and rightly it should. There is an effective contrast between the spatial texture of the verses and the driving U2-like choruses. Another standout on the CD is "The Kindness of Our God" that brings a distinctive Celtic/Folk quality that immediately reminds the listener of Keith and Kristyn Getty's "In Christ Alone". It's a powerful song reflecting on all that heaven will bring us – all because of the kindness of a merciful God.
All styles are present on I Will Praise You - electronica, folk, rock, pop, and worship. But this time, there's a more complete fit between singer and style; as if Rebecca has discovered a musical identity where she is comfortable – and one where her smooth voice fits. And it's a good fit for the listener too!
Do any of the tracks disappoint? Well…every album has its B-sides. For that designation, you have "When the Stars Burn Down" which is a fine composition but just not that memorable.
Welcome back Rebecca. Your return is marked by not only a new label, but some really fresh, compelling, catchy and thought-provoking – no, PRAISE-provoking music. It really fits who you are artistically and vocally; rather than you trying to fit the music. For fans, though you may not hear each track on the radio, each track has a beauty all its own; with a heart-felt message for God that has become the hallmark for Rebecca St. James.