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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews


  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Aug
Sounds like … passionate and poetic worship that blends Rita's Melissa Etheridge-like vocals with the pop/rock of Rich Mullins's A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band, or the powerful sounds of Michael W. Smith's Worship albumAt a Glance … with the help of producer and worship leader David Ruis, Rita Springer creates a worship album that's intimate, poetic, and passionate.

Acclaimed worship leader Rita Springer may not have the name recognition of Matt Redman and Darlene Zschech, but that could well change someday soon. A resident of Houston, Texas, where she serves as a worship leader at a church called The Encourager, Rita is another of the much-heralded "Vineyard songwriters" responsible for such worship gems as "Make Us a Prayer," "Fragrant Offering," "Moving with the Lamb," "You Said," and "Oh How You Love Me." She has a heart for women's ministry, though she's led worship for audiences of all kinds around the world. After releasing two successful independent projects, Rita signed with Floodgate Records to release the live album Created to Worship, as well as All I Have. Her fifth project, Effortless, was recorded in Winnipeg, Canada with producer and fellow Vineyard worship leader David Ruis.

Two words leap to mind when you give Rita's music a serious listen: passion and poetry. The former certainly isn't uncommon to worship music, but few artists exude passion like Rita Springer does. You can hear it soaking in her strong vocals, which often are compared to Melissa Etheridge, but can also be compared to Margaret Becker, Janis Joplin, Jennifer Knapp, and Jami Smith. Her music displays an equal helping of passion and a sincere longing for intimacy with God. Some might say this is unremarkable pop/rock that favors power ballads. I hear a band that wants to play its heart out and blend true artistry with worshipping the Lord. This is neither overproduced pop-worship nor overdone modern rock, but something rather unique that falls in-between. There are times when Rita and her band are as effective as Rich Mullins was with his Ragamuffin Band on his Liturgy, Legacy, Ragamuffin Band album. If you like what Michael W. Smith did on his Worship project, there's much to enjoy on Effortless.

The difference between Effortless and other albums such as Worship, however, is the singability. This is where the poetry comes into play and why Rita probably hasn't made the same impact as Matt Redman and Darlene Zschech. It's not impossible to sing along to Rita's music, but sometimes her music makes you want to sit and listen rather than stand and sing along. But as Rita rightfully says, worship can be "songs sung over people as well as songs sung by people" — it's no less worship in either case. So it is with "About God," a very Psalm-like composition that explores our relationship with the sovereign creator of the universe: "How can we walk underneath an open sky? / How can we say we have eyes and yet we can be so blind? / You have your race and religion and I guess I have mine / What about God?" Likewise, "This Was Good" glorifies the perfection of God's creation. It's an excellent expression of worship set to a slow rock groove in which she sounds a lot like Jennifer Knapp, but the verses are a mouthful and the simplistic repetitiveness of the chorus may annoy some who want to sing along.

I like that Rita has an open mind about worship and art, experimenting with a variety of writing styles rather than pulling from a pre-set list of worship clichés. "Worth It All" is a powerful statement of perseverance and praise: "Around every corner and up every mountain / I'm not looking for crowns or the water from fountains / I'm desperate in seeking – frantic, believing – the sight of your face." Her words in "You Still Have My Heart" offer praise and devotion to the Lord with originality and poetry: "Oh, I sigh at your wonders / Oh, I labor for breath at your creation / Your majesty has my attention / Your sovereignty has my devotion / And you still have my heart." Like the beloved hymn "Just As I Am," there's a beautiful portrait of comfort and simplicity that carries the gentle "Just to Know," which lists things that bring us the Lord's peace: "Just to know that I can come and lay at your feet / Just to know that I won't be denied / Just to know that I can call you my home."

Rita wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's twelve tracks, though some of the album's finest moments are her interpretations of other people's worship songs. I really like her rendition of Bart Millard's "I Can Only Imagine," which is a little more bombastic than the original because of the guitars and drums (reminiscent of "Better Is One Day"). She sings a duet with David Ruis on his song "No Eye Has Seen," which expresses a child-like desire to understand God's sometimes confusing will. Though the vocals sound a little tired and the keyboards a little dated, I love that she covers Delirious' "Intimate Stranger," a beautiful song with a lovely melody that surprisingly hasn't made its way into more church services. By far one of the album's standout tracks is Rita's cover of Charlie Hall's "Holy Visitation," which absolutely rocks and is highlighted by an extensive vocal and percussion vamp that recalls Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, or Rich Mullins ("The Color Green").

Rita Springer has a gift for expressing worship in new words, as well as making an intimate connection between the listener and the Lord through her music. She has a somewhat unique ability to thoughtfully ad lib while playing, often elaborating on the emotion of the song — you can hear it at the end of many of these songs, as well as on "Spontaneous Song." Yes, it sometimes can be melodically monotonous, but it's also very meditative, like an old Latin chant. The title track is a simple and brief piano-accompanied prayer for the worship to be pleasing to God, featuring an absolutely beautiful and haunting melody. Rita titled this album Effortless to describe our ideal worship relationship with the Lord, but it's also an apt description of her skillful blending of artistry with worship.