Before pop-rockers--and brothers--Joel and Luke Smallbone, under the name for King & Country, ignited arenas across America, another Smallbone was making waves in the Christian music industry. Rebecca Smallbone, under the stage name Rebecca St. James, came to the U.S. with her family as a young teenager. She later found success in the growing industry of 1990s Christian music.
Her Aussie flare added a hook to female-led pop/rock, thus making her a household name for many years. While her label debut offered plenty of radio hits, it was her follow-up album, God, that truly put her on the map. That album, released in 1996, turns a quarter-century old this year. So, as Rebecca St. James starts making a comeback, we take a look back at her landmark album.
This Girl Rocks
Girls rocking out was common in the 2000s, but not so common in the '90s. Ladies in the industry achieved success making more contemporary or pop sounds. Christian music icon Amy Grant proved to be a true crossover powerhouse in mainstream pop. That's probably why the opening title track, "God," took listeners by such surprise. With a haunting hook, the song slowly builds its way to a blistering rock chorus that is unapologetic and raw in both music and messaging.
The rest of the album never quite catches up to that pace. But "God" allowed Rebecca to explore edgier musical terrain, more so than many of her female contemporaries of '90s Christian music. "You Than Me" took a quirky number from singer-songwriter Bob Halligan and infused it with a legitimate rock groove. Rebecca's Aussie flare also adds some gravitas to the production, making this cut a standout. Popular cuts like "Abba (Father)" and "Go and Sin No More" proved perhaps more accessible for Christian radio in sound, while still pushing against the musical boundaries of the time.
Lyrics With Meaning
Rebecca's songs touched on a lot of topics, both deep and fun. "Abba (Father)" is a praise song of love from a child to her heavenly father, while "Go and Sin No More" offers biblical comfort to those struggling with guilt over sin. "You Than Me" offers an almost childlike humorous take on putting others before themselves, while the similarly quirky "Me Without You" remarks on how useless a life without God is.
Perhaps the lyrical gem is still the title track, remarking on the wondrous creation God made and how remarkable it is that the author of the universe still takes time to love us. Even with a long and prolific career in the decade to come, the lyrical and musical weight of Rebecca's early hit puts it in the top tier of her entire catalog of music.
In the late '90s, Rebecca St. James was a legitimate contender for the female lead of contemporary Christian music. Subsequent albums Pray, Reborn, and Worship God would continue to offer more of her signature hits that would dominate Christian radio. Her hit "Wait for Me" would be released in the early 2000s and become an anthem for young adults to save themselves for marriage. None of that would've been possible had her sophomore album lost steam from the attention she got with her debut. Luckily for us listeners, God ramped up that momentum and made people take notice.
Even after Rebecca St. James took a break from her music upon finally finding and marrying her "darling," her influence on Christian music would continue in a surprising form. It turns out that not only were her younger brothers part of her backup band in the later years of her career, but they were out to make their own music themselves. Which they started doing just a few short years later, under the name for King & Country. Turns out talent and success at making good music must run in the family.
With the wisdom of motherhood and more years under God's care, Rebecca St. James made a welcomed return to music last year. While so far, she's just given us an EP, here's hoping more classic albums are in the works from this legendary singer and that the second act of her career is just getting started.
J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community.
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