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Sounds like … St. James' familiar modern pop sound in a live worship setting—imagine Darlene Zschech if she rocked out moreAt a glance … Although somewhat brief and released a little too soon after Worship God, St. James' new offering demonstrates a solid live rock sound with effective worship leadingTrack ListingLamb of GodBlessed Be Your NameQuiet You With My LoveLet My Words Be FewI Adore YouAbove AllHere I Am to WorshipThe Power of Your Love*. Shout to the Lord
In many ways, Rebecca St. James is more popular than ever—nearly 2.5 million albums sold, a relentless touring schedule, participation in the highly publicized !Hero rock opera album and tour, numerous media appearances, and enduring popularity among fans, not to mention a new book to be released in fall 2004. All pretty remarkable considering she hasn't released an album of all-new, original material for close to four years.
Which is why I approached this new recording with some skepticism. Despite the success of 2002's Worship God, I wasn't overwhelmed with its predictable pop approach to modern worship. Now two years after that album's release, we have Live Worship: Blessed Be Your Name, which mostly consists of the same songs in a live setting. For that matter, it's marketed as a nine-track EP, not a full-length album. Is it really worth getting excited over a shortened revisit of St. James' last studio project? You might be as surprised as I was.
For starters, though it's only nine songs, Live Worship runs 40 minutes—longer than a number of full lengths, yet still reasonably priced at $9 or less. It comes in response to fans' requests for a live worship album. (I also suggested a live album would be an improvement in my review of Worship God.) Studio worship albums are fine if you present original songs or innovative arrangements; if not, the artist can come off sounding like a cover band. A live worship album, however, benefits from the additional energy of the band and an enthusiastic audience, while also demonstrating the worship leader's ability to, well, lead.
St. James is clearly passionate about praise and worship, having grown up immersed in it—her father was involved with some of the early Hillsong Australia albums—yet she's not prone to charismatic outbursts. In what little you do hear, St. James simply encourages the audience to sing with all their heart and visualize the words they sing, while also offering simple-yet-meaningful prayers that are to the point, not overly long or dramatic. Some might call her worship leading understated, but I appreciate it as one who comes from a relatively more conservative approach to contemporary worship. St. James wanted to recreate a sense of community among brothers and sisters worshipping together, drawing their hearts closer to God. And she succeeds.
The talented band does a fine job of emulating the programmed pop of the studio while infusing it with some energy of its own. Live versions of St. James' "Quiet You With My Love" and especially "Lamb of God" benefit from the heavier guitars, not to mention the audience's enthusiasm. While the cover of Matt Redman's "Let My Words Be Few" doesn't differ too much from that heard on Worship God, "Above All" is improved by a simple acoustic guitar arrangement featuring outstanding three-part harmonies, making it more intimately worshipful. It carries into an a cappella sing-along of "Here I Am to Worship" that comes off very touching instead of another cover du jour.
Fans seeking something new will particularly enjoy the rocking cover of "Blessed Be Your Name," which manages to surpass Matt Redman's original. St. James also offers a new original, "I Adore You"; it's not her strongest work, but the melody is undeniably beautiful. There's also a good studio rendition of "The Power of Your Love," offering more of the modern pop/rock you'd expect from this artist, but stronger than most of the tracks heard on Worship God. Lastly, her rendition of "Shout to the Lord' (from ForeFront's Eterne worship project) is included as a hidden track—again, it's a familiar but well done rendering, and a treat for those who don't already have it.
It might be said that this album is too similar to Worship God, but it actually improves on it. A few more covers or originals would have made it better still, though that would have also upped the price. Most importantly, Live Worship proves something I've suspected all along—as Rebecca St. James continues to mature, she could easily and comfortably become a new generation's Darlene Zschech, as both worship leader and songwriter.