In 2004, Rebecca St. James made her live album debut with the worship-minded EP, Live Worship: Blessed Be Your Name. Despite her sixteen-plus years of making music, Rebecca has surprisingly never released a full-length live album or video. aLIVE In Florida is the first project of its kind for her, and it perfectly covers both ends of the spectrum as it delivers both CD and DVD versions of the live concert experience in one complete package.
The concert, filmed just days under a year ago in Fort Myers, Florida, offers a song selection focused on recent tunes from the solo artist's impressive career, not reaching back any further than 2000's Transform album. Sadly, because this is her first live album, this excludes some of her more classic staples like "God," "Pray," and "You're The Voice," among others. But aLIVE In Florida still remains a fair mix of songs from the past seven years. Opening strongly with "God Help Me," it's immediately apparent how clean and well mixed the live production is. Without sounding like a poor bootleg, the music is properly leveled to allow the guitars to roar, the crowd to cry out, and for Rebecca's vocals to take front and center. Those who see St. James live know it's a family affair as much of them tour with her, and her younger brothers can often be found on stage with her. In this particular recording, her siblings Joel and Luke are providing background vocals as opposed to her sometimes-backup Charmaine. The boys have strong vocals, but at times there seems to be a bit too much contrast between Rebecca's passionate display and her brothers more masculine accompaniment. It's difficult not to wonder how having Charmaine's support would have gelled instead, especially when her little sister Libby's subtle background vocals on tracks like "Lamb Of God" seems to work so well. Ultimately, the mixes are tight and the occasional differences in vocal stylings isn't enough to distract. The only other noticeable problem, however, is Rebecca's mic tends to get fuzzy or hiss at times (especially apparent in "You Are Loved"). It's minor, but it's probably something that could have been avoided.
A new mix of "Wait For Me" is one of the highlights of the overall record, presented as an updated, less electronic pop version. It feels more mature and seems to work better in 2007 than its 2000 rendition would. An acoustic version of "You Are Loved" is also a unique update from its album version. And when "Thank You" rolls around, and TobyMac is obviously not present to provide his guest raps like on the studio version on RSJ's If I Had One Chance To Tell You Something record, her brother Joel Smallbone steps in. In fact, Rebecca even then steps back entirely for "Without Love," giving the mic over to Joel and her other brother Luke as they perform one of their own songs for the audience. It may seem a bit odd for those listening who aren't familiar with the way Rebecca runs her shows to hear her relinquish the microphone, but it's commonplace for her to allow one of the members of her band to perform a song of their own midway through her set. While it's been Charmaine many times before (and since), this time it's Joel and Luke who get a chance to really display their own talents and they put on quite a memorable performance themselves (despite having the visual appearance of a two-person "boy band" of sorts). We can expect to hear more from these guys as they've been receiving some attention from record labels lately, and it isn't too much of a surprise from hearing them on aLIVE.
Other aLIVE In Florida highlights include the addition of her contribution to the Chronicles Of Narnia soundtrack, "Lion," the worshipful "Take All Of Me" from her If I Had One Chance... album, and the closing title track, "Alive." As a bonus to the live material, a decent dance mix of "You Are Loved" is tacked on to the end. Although not really needed, the track, tagged as the "hisboyelroy's funk house mix" will be a nice addition for those who enjoy the song's original mix.
The DVD version of the aLIVE show is a bit of a mixed bag. The video is a bit all over the place, utilizing many different angles, fast cuts, and artistic shots to try to keep things creative and interesting. The problem with this, however, is the end result is a bit spastic at times, especially for the more upbeat songs, and we're often getting back-of-the-audience shots of the stage, shaky zooms, and seemingly more passing shots of Rebecca than front-row, up-close-and-personal ones. The film's picture is presented in widescreen, yet not exactly formatted for a widescreen TV (and looks grainy and pixelated at times). Although the film cuts and races sporadically more so than not, when the music slows or when, for example, St. James leads the audience in worship for the close of "Lamb Of God," the editing appropriately slows as well to better capture the moood of the moment. Also, those who've listened to the audio portion of the show will notice that Rebecca's signature talks and introductions between songs were missing, but find a place on the DVD instead. While it's best for listening purposes to leave the talking off of the audio portion of a live recording, it makes more sense to include it on the video, and it's especially a good thing in Rebecca's case. Her pro-abstinence message that precedes "Wait For Me," in particular, is invaluable and a great addition to the live video. The DVD also includes a lengthy talk from Rebecca sharing her heart about her experiences with Compassion International, as well as a look at Joel and Luke performing their solo effort. Sadly, the Narnia cut is omitted from the live footage, but a reprise of "Blessed Be Your Name" is included at the end to close out the show. Extras on the DVD are limited to two concept videos for "God Help Me," and "Forgive Me," that are shown exclusively during her live shows, as well as a promo video for Compassion International featuring Rebecca while on her trip to Rwanda.
Despite minor nitpicks here and there, aLIVE In Florida is a live project done right. Giving fans plenty of live music as well as visual accompaniment, it's clear that care has been taken in compiling this project for the fans. While some of the video quality or direction could have been done a little better, it's still an appreciated addition to the project. It's been a longtime coming for there to be a live Rebecca St. James project, and it sounds great. St. James fans will most definitely want to grab this set while fans of live music in general might enjoy it as well.- Review date: 3/18/07, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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