Australian-born singer Rebecca St. James has sold millions of records globally. Her latest accomplishments include being voted "Best Female Artist" by Campus Life Magazine in 2006 and named "Favorite Female Artist" for a sixth time by Contemporary Christian Music Magazine.
Still, the chances are good that you aren't aware of this feat unless you've either heard about her in your local house of worship or tracked contemporary Christian sales charts, where St. James has been a major presence since her debut album was released in 1994.
Actually, given the longtimeline of Christianity, the whole concept of contemporary Christian music is open to interpretation. After all, "For every time there is a season."
At one point, Bach's musical style was contemporary. So too were the works of Thomas Dorsey, Roy Acuff's take on "Great Speckled Bird," Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In the Sky" and the mass choir tradition best exemplified by the Rev. James Cleveland. And don't forget the rap anthems of Kirk Franklin or the resanctified M.C. Hammer.
The St. James version of contemporary Christian music is -- when you get right down to it -- power pop with crunchy guitars, a light show and a sacred message. By adopting the musical blueprint of traditional rock 'n' roll stars, St. James was able to testify about her beliefs through her lyrics even as her backup musicians churned through the changes with the power that comes only from amplification.
Her concert Friday evening at Artpark was a textbook example of how St. James' music, message and audience combine for a powerful effect. It seemed as if everyone in the hall, all 1,000-plus of them, knew the lyrics and could sing along with the chorus on songs like "Lamb Of God," "Thank You" and "Here I Am To Worship."
While St. James was at the top of the bill and the reason why most of the audience was there, two acts with Western New York roots fleshed out the front end of the program.
Relevant Worship is a nine-piece band with five guitars -- two acoustic and three plugged in -- a keyboard player, bassist and drummer, along with a backup singer. They are booked to appear at this year's Kingdom Bound Music Festival, the contemporary Christian equivalent of Lollapalooza.
The two main singers were charismatic and led an ecstatic performance that owed as much to U2 and jam bands as they did to the Holy Writ. While St. James was the focal point for much of the audience, it is clear that Relevant Worship will be a force to contend with further on down the line.
Brooke Yaiser is a young singer from Middleport whose heart is plainly with the music she performs but it is also apparent that a bit more seasoning is needed. Her band was fairly solid throughout, but when Yaiser introduced the piano player, things went awry for a bit. He performed a top-heavy, overly florid arrangement of his favorite hymn ("How Great Thou Art") that sounded as if he was using his undeniable talents to channel the worst tendencies of Liberace and Dino.
Rebecca St. James
Friday night in Artpark Mainstage Theater.