Review: Rick Lee James “Changes”

Rick Lee James “Changes”

06 Dec, 2010 Andrew Greenhalgh

The music business is a tough one to break into, with artists left and right vying for attention, particularly in the age of American Idol and America’s Got Talent.  Yet, within the contemporary Christian music scene, the competition is even more fierce to stand out as choir members, worship leaders, and soloists all vie for attention.  Of course, they pursue that attention with the noblest of means, seeking to proclaim the power and glory of their Savior far and wide.  Enter Rick Lee James.  James is a journeyman worship leader, youth pastor, sought after guitarist, minister, and songwriter who’s been performing in churches, festivals, and coffeehouses since the age of 17.  He’s released six albums with the latest being Changes, an album that hearkens back to the great change James went through as his marriage fell apart around him.  The artist says of the experience, “They often need someone who has been there to help them see that the pain doesn’t last forever and that God is our source of hope and healing.”  That heartbeat is front and center on Changes, finding the artist raising up praises to his God while also having the courage of his convictions to ask the question “Why?” Built against a primarily stable CCM soundscape, these songs reflect the heart of one who’s walked through the fire and come out on the other side, not necessarily unscathed, but with healing and hope.

“Illuminated” leads things off in earnest, with James’ warm tones melting out over a basic arrangement, buoyed by some legitimate lyricism as he sings: “A light came shining into the darkness/The shadow of death ran from the day/Back to the abyss where it had come from/The curtain of the night was torn away.”  “Illuminated” is followed by the album’s standout track “I Lift Up My Eyes.”  While a bit derivative, it’s the type of song whose hook locks in early and doesn’t let up, and will easily fit into worship settings everywhere.

James steps up and tackles some questions with the overly wordy, yet honest, “Why?” with a laid back pop-country feel while “Private Storm” continues the conversation with thunderstorm sound effects and mournful harmonica, openly sharing with listeners that “…God’s silence is not golden when you’re hanging on a cross.”  The artist is not without answers to his questions, however.  It’s hokey, but the coffeehouse folk of “Keep Your Eyes Upon the Nazarene” offers some preachy and solid advice while “Lost No More” is a playful pop number about a changed life that has found its hope in the “Sacred Heart of Jesus.” It offers an anthemic duet with James and Mandy Holcomb that truly works here, the two voices blending together nicely and mirroring the truth of the song as two become one in Christ.

While the album does have some legitimate strong points, it also has some low ones due to a bit of musical schizophrenia that harms the overall vibe of the record.  For instance, James offers up “Sing Praise To God Who Reigns Above,” a bluegrass foot-stomper that features fiery picking and soulful harmonies.  Then we’re presented with a hodgepodge of pop and acoustic folk which leads us to the failure of “Blessed Be the Name.” James’ take on this great old hymn falls short with its blues rock arrangement and weak vocals.  Even with the vocals pushed up in production, as they are throughout the whole record (another low point), James just can’t save this one.

While the bad knocks are enough to drop this album from great to good, there’s still enough to praise about Rick Lee James and Changes. James is an earnest songwriter, competent musician, and developing artist.  It’s an album that keenly reflects his love for his God, for others, and for music.  As James’ own words attest, “Music is a form of prayer…I think of leading worship as leading prayers of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and repentance unto the Lord.”  Let us all bow our heads…

Review by Andrew Greenhalgh
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)