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Renaissance: Live in Nashville

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Mar
Renaissance: Live in Nashville
Sounds like … a midpoint between Juanita Bynum and Sandi Patty—elegantly performed pop ballads with some contemporary gospel thrown in.At a glance … a pleasant follow-up that places the former talent-search winner in a more versatile setting.Track Listing Renaissance (Prelude)
The Lord Is Good
Cast Your Cares
Song of the Lord
God Speaks (Reprise)
I?ve Seen Him Work
Romans 8:28 Praise (Reprise)
John 3:5 (Interlude)
Gift from God
El Shaddai
Another Day
I Choose to Rejoice
Renaissance (Postlude)

Before Gospel Dream became a cross-country, televised semi-event—and years before American Idol became a phenomenon—it began as a relatively small, unassuming singing contest. Only 500 entrants competed in the first installment of the competition in 2003, which took place over a few days during a church convention. And the winner of the first year's competition was Benita Washington, a praise-and-worship leader from Nashville who has candor and vocal ability to spare.

Her Light Records debut Hold On received high marks from us as well as others; her second effort Renaissance: Live in Nashville isn't too far behind. This homecoming of sorts, recorded live at Music City's Rocketown club, possesses all of the elements of her debut, except presented with more versatility, poise, and passion. She's something of a novelty in the way she mixes pop sensibility with gospel fervor, exhortation, and a number of stylistic diversions in between.

The fact that Washington co-wrote the bulk of the album sure helps in giving her freedom. She strikes a good balance between her pop and church personas. One moment her brand of pop balladry sounds like Sandi Patty at her most majestic and delicate ("Cast Your Cares," "Early"). The next, she unleashes her full gospel wail ("I've Seen Him Work"), not unlike a more restrained version of CeCe Winans or Juanita Bynum (naturally, since she's toured with both.)

When not entertaining either personality, Washington tries her hand at jazz-pop, soft rock, inspirational, and '80s R&B, sounding in command all the way through. But while the styles are executed skillfully, a few of the longer orchestrated pieces tend to meander a bit—like Bynum, there's a tendency to overextend things. Thankfully, the singer never goes overboard, and like most talent-search hopefuls nowadays, she understands that sticking to the program is more valuable than trying too hard.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.