Stephanie McKenna: Come Be With Me
Sound/Style: smooth yet substantial pop with ministry emphasis
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) – For all its positives, Christian contemporary music is a tightly formatted genre that historically has played it safe in picking subject matter. Most Christian pop radio stations seek a light, upbeat sound that requires minimal effort by the listener (just as many secular radio stations aim for similar objectives, though with a wider range of options.) The approach allows busy listeners to maintain a worshipful state of mind, but the downside is all too often a diluted Gospel. By skimming off and presenting only the whipped topping of Jesus’ message, the industry is missing out on an opportunity to explore the Gospel’s healing and radical depth – a criticism cited by Christian pop’s detractors when describing its superficial tendencies. Let’s face it: If an artist creates music openly addressing abuse, addiction and Christ-centered recovery, it has about a fireball’s chance in Heaven of finding mass mainstream acceptance. (This, incidentally, is hardly the fault of Christian radio alone; the Church itself is generally squeamish and avoids struggles with deep-seated emotional/behavioral issues.)
It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that Stephanie McKenna’s healing-based Christian opus, Come Be With Me, has emerged via the Internet-based Christian music underground. The resulting music deals with harm and sinfulness with a gentle hand that emphasizes grace, worship and the Father’s open arms. The songs have a clean, bracing pop appeal, steering clear of the heaviness associated with abuse-related issues, but without trivializing the subjects.
On her Web site (www.stephaniemckenna.com), the composer and multi-instrumentalist tells her story of severe abuse as a child, forced to take part in a satanic cult. Her arduous journey to spiritual and emotional health forms the basis of Come Be With Me, a spiritually anointed album that comforts, heals and inspires.
McKenna maximizes the record’s ministry potential by presenting her testimony as a third-person tale of God’s deep love and restoration, with spoken-word segments that connect the disc’s suite of songs. These brief narratives have power to penetrate tender places in the heart of the listener: "She was certain that God would be repulsed by her anger and brokenness, but instead He lifted her head, drew her close and called her beautiful." The songs lean toward the subdued, but are often supplanted with engaging rhythms that blend modern R&B with a light Latin flavor.
McKenna’s pure, girlish soprano dominates, providing a satiny flow with few peaks and valleys in her delivery. While this vocal sameness is somewhat static, it establishes an intimacy and pulls the story along without calling undue attention to the singer’s performance. Her melodies and lyrics are simple and easily accessible, while a host of tasteful arrangements and technical effects provide interest for more sophisticated ears. The overall sound alternately recalls the airy, celestial-sounding work of Michelle Tumes and the artful sonics of Tori Amos, though with a depth and warmth often missing in Amos’ edgy and dramatic style.
From its affirming message and contemporary production to its candy pink and violet booklet, Come Be With Me is especially suited to girls and young women. They perhaps stand to gain most from its contents. By following her instincts and turning her painful experiences into a gift of hope for others, McKenna has created an inviting work that stands as aural evidence of God’s magnificent power to conquer evil with goodness.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.