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If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Nov
If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something
Sounds like … a sometimes-edgier blend of St. James' modern pop/rock sound, resembling Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Evanescence, Plumb, and BarlowGirl.At a glance … it's been a long five years since her Transform album, yet despite a few derivative tracks, Rebecca St. James proves she hasn't lost her touch, thanks to a newfound rock edge and lyrical openness.Track Listing God Help Me Alive You Are Loved Shadowlands Love Being Loved By You I Need You Beautiful Stranger Thank You Take All of Me Forgive Me I Can Trust in You Lest I Forget

"I have let the cold creep in and lock my ability to feel … I'm running out of time to live/Running out of love to give/Running out of life within/God help me." Whoa, are these lyrics (from "God Help Me") by the same perpetually cheerful and hopeful Rebecca St. James that Christian music fans have come to love since 1994?

Indeed, they come from a young woman who has wrestled with burnout and personal fears since 2000's Transform, which is partly why it's taken five years for her to release an album of new material. She's been plenty busy with relentless touring, participation in !Hero: The Rock Opera, writing a string of books, and releasing the best-selling Worship God. Nevertheless, St. James the songwriter has been absent too long, but fortunately, If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something proves that she hasn't lost her touch.

"God Help Me" starts the album and remains one of the most impressive because it clearly demonstrates her new songwriting approach. Dark, intense, and above all, honest, it's a prayer of vulnerability that stems from brokenness. St. James has gradually come to understand that Christian music doesn't always have to offer the answers—sometimes, it's more effective to simply be relatable, since these feelings are universal to Christians and non-Christians alike. Moreover, it's one of her most rocking songs ever, similar to Evanescence, early Plumb, or Alanis Morissette.

The answer to St. James' wordy album title is "You Are Loved," a catchy tune with a Brit-pop flavor and a terrific sampled-string hook. Written while thinking about a childhood friend who has fallen away from God, it's a simple and sincere letter that shares God's love with any heart that's grown cold. The strong rocker "Beautiful Stranger" is inspired by St. James' work with Compassion International, expanding on the idea of serving Christ through "the least of these." Heavier guitars also elevate "Shadowlands," which draws its title from C. S. Lewis and is a typically good ballad expressing faith through the dark valleys of life.

St. James also deserves more credit for her vocals, not just because she records most of her own intricate backing harmonies, but also because she stretches herself. Though she usually resides in a lower alto range, she proves capable of belting out the higher notes in "Alive." The album's first radio single, it explains her new understanding of freedom from worry and stress when we completely surrender our lives to God. "I Need You" presents an even more impressive performance with St. James exploring a soprano range that impressively evokes Sarah McLachlan, while expressing thanks to a dear friend who's helped her with her spiritual walk.

These new levels of lyrical openness and rock intensity are the album's greatest strengths. And while the rest of the album isn't bad, it falters a bit from mediocrity—or sounding too much like things St. James has done before. "I Can Trust in You" offers more honesty, but it's a thematic retread of "Alive" and too similar musically to past songs. "Love to Be Loved by You" is a rocking potential single with insightful verses and a worshipful chorus, but its sound is too typical for St. James, and the title too reminiscent of "Love to Love You" from 1998's Pray. The album's least satisfying track is "Thank You," an urban-flavored rocker featuring tobyMac that offers some good words about making God the focus of our lives. But the intentionally simplistic chorus is too banal: "I've got two words for You … from my heart/Thank You, thank You, thank You, thank You, thank You/I've got three words more than thank You." Take a wild guess what those might be.

But there are some effective and affecting worship songs toward the end. St. James makes Hillsong United's anthemic "Take All of Me" her own without radically transforming it. "Forgive Me" is a confessional piano ballad that places the emphasis on the lyrics and the vocals as St. James harmonizes beautifully with BarlowGirl. And then there's the tranquil ambience of "Lest I Forget," which focuses on the significance of Holy Communion and could well become her next big original worship song since "Song of Love."

This album's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and you can bet that as much as half of If I Had One Chance will do well on Christian radio. The challenge will be for St. James will be to avoid reverting to old material, continuing to press forward and try new things in her words and music. Nevertheless, this is a great recovery from her songwriting hiatus. Rebecca St. James is back, as inviting and rocking as she ever was.

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