- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Sep
You'd think a career as a worship artist would have come naturally to Kara, the latest signee to Integrity's Vertical Music label. As early as age four, she toured across the country with her family, The Williamsons, leading worship at a variety of church events and praise gatherings. Kara began leading worship for her church youth group at 18, and soon began to sing background vocals for the likes of CeCe Winans, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. You may even recognize Kara from her brief stint on 40Records with her older brother and sister as the worship group Three Strand. Despite all of these worship experiences, Kara believed she needed to pursue a mainstream deal. It was only after she wrestled with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa and felt God calling her to lay aside her pop-star ambitions that Kara returned to her worship focus. Her self-titled debut, produced by dance-pop master Pete Kipley (Plus One, Jump5), is the fruition of that focus.
I know lots of people are enjoying Rebecca St. James's recent
To be sure, this album is only a couple steps above teen pop. One could imagine ZOEgirl performing "Heart of a Child" and "Glorify You," both declarations of faith and commitment to the Lord. "Sunshine" and "Here I Am" are songs of confession set to fast dance beats, similar in sound to ABBA and Pink. The quality and creativity of the production elevate the music, however. For example, there's a powerful breakdown in the bridge of "Here I Am," in which Kara's accompanied only by strings, pipe organ, and church bells as she sings "Holy, holy merciful and mighty / You do not spare one good thing from those who seek your truth / How could I not worship you?" Kara describes "Falling on Me Now" as Chinese rock because of its unique melody in the chorus. It reminded me more of some of Cindy Morgan's work, the melody in the chorus sounding like a playful tease. There are also two well-written ethereal ballads, "Wash Over Me," a song of spiritual restoration, and the appropriately titled "Beautiful Moment." The standout track of the album, "I Love You," left me with chills after my first listen. Written from God's perspective, it's a dramatic and wonderful song illustrating his unconditional love and endless forgiveness for us.
Kara wisely keeps the covers to a minimum, allowing her own artistic abilities as a songwriter and performer to emerge. Still, the two old favorites on the album are handled quite well. Chalk it up to smart production and the fact we don't come to this debut album with specific expectations. Lenny LeBlanc's humble and prayerful "We'll All Bow Down" is given an appropriately beautiful modern-pop ballad arrangement, but check out Kara's slick rendition of "Hungry (Falling on My Knees)." She remains fairly true to the original song, preserving the melody and most of the original song structure, but there are enough clever production hooks (including synthetic vocal harmonization) to keep it interesting.
Is this a worship album? For the most part, yes, though sometimes it might be better described as vertical music with Kara presenting her own spiritual testimony. Personally, I would have liked it if the album were a little more intellectual, more like Dido and less like ZOEgirl. Kara falls somewhere in between. But this is still a flawless album for what it is: fun, energetic, and worshipful dance-pop that stimulates the heart and the feet.