NEWSBOYS

"Devotion"

Sparrow

REBECCA ST. JAMES

"Live Worship: Blessed Be Your Name"

Forefront

Contemporary Christian music is almost as trendy as its pop counterpart, and every bit as predictable. The Newsboys hopped on the "Praise and Worship" bandwagon with their last CD, "Adoration: The Worship Album," and the Australia-bred quintet hasn't hopped off yet. "Devotion" marks the second leg of this spiritual journey, with the group delivering an always polished and sometimes passionately rendered collection of modern hallelujah songs.

Based in Nashville now, the Newsboys have a genuine flair for coming up with big choruses and dramatic modulations -- and a good thing, too, since some of the songs on "Devotion" don't have much else going for them. The CD opens with the title cut, the first in a series of faith testimonies emphatically underscored by acoustic guitars, percussion and vocal harmonies. As the album unfolds, cameos by Rebecca St. James, Stuart Garrard and a choir occasionally add some welcome twists, while "The Orphan," a piano ballad, serves as a soulful interlude. Lead singer Peter Furler's raspy vocals help set the band's sound apart from the "P&W" pack, but the same, alas, can't be said for most of the songwriting here.

St. James, who helps the Newsboys revive Matt Redman's "Blessed Be Your Name" on "Devotion," reprises the same tune on her latest release, "Live Worship: Bless Be Your Name." Her version of the song quickly reveals her '80s rock influences, which are blaringly apparent throughout this hits-heavy concert collection. Though she never fails to get a rise out of adoring fans while performing "Lamb of God" and other punched-up favorites, St. James often displays her considerable vocal talent more effectively during changes of pace inspired by the self-penned ballad "I Adore You" and the similarly low-keyed musing "Above All."

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Thursday at the Patriot Center. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Newsboys, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8111; to hear Rebecca St. James, press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)