12 Days of Christmas Music: Day 1 (bonus)
This 2-song EP (available via download from Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, and iTunes) arrives just weeks before the street date of Seabird’s sophomore project, Rocks Into Rivers. Buzz across the Internet believes this band is creatively reinventing classic Christmas carols, but I can’t say I agree.
If you’re going to take a well-known Christmas carol and apply a new melody to it, you’re essentially telling me that you’re incapable of writing compelling Christmas lyrics to go with your original music. Seabird is hardly the first to try this approach—see previous Christmas offerings from Steven Curtis Chapman, Fernando Ortega, Sara Groves, and Bebo Norman to name just a few. But for me, the gimmick only works 1 out of 10 times that it’s tried; more often than not, the new melody doesn’t hold a candle to the old one.
12 Days of Christmas Music: Day 1
For Sandi Patty, this is Christmas album No. 4 in her illustrious 30-year career, not to mention the second release on her newly formed Stylos record label. What sets this CD/DVD combo apart from previous Christmas offerings, however, is it’s the first concert recording of the bunch. Your enthusiastic or indifferent reaction to that last tidbit is the best way to gauge whether Christmas Live is essential enough to buy.
Backed by a full orchestra and choir, Patty again proves herself one of the greatest American singers of our time. That’s not just because of this soprano’s tendency to belt a high note at the end of her songs either. Aside from vocal range and tone, Patty’s most outstanding trait is her versatility, which she gracefully applies throughout the concert (recorded last summer at First United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas).
Nowadays, I tend to like Patty best when she’s gentle and jazzy, as demonstrated here on “The Christmas Song,” her “Home for the Holidays” medley, and of course, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But then she contrasts such standouts with enjoyable pop selections from her previous Christmas albums (“Someday,” “Star of Bethlehem”), and even indulges her gospel side for “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child.” All in all, it’s a varied blend of sacred and secular, old and new.
Adversity Begets Artistry … and Hope
Sad but true, adversity does often lead to fruitful artistry for songwriters. Still, how did Steven Curtis Chapman find the will and strength to write and record an album in just 18 months after the tragic death of his 5-year-old daughter Maria Sue? I imagine Beauty Will Rise was both the hardest and easiest album for Chapman to make—a cathartic outpouring that helped him wrestle with the pain of his loss.
Many have commented on the rawness of Chapman’s sound on Beauty Will Rise as if it were a radical departure from his previous albums, but that’s not entirely accurate. Though the music is stripped down somewhat, this is not some dour unplugged album with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone. As co-produced with guitarist Brent Milligan, and mostly recorded on tour over the last year, Beauty is very much a Steven Curtis Chapman album, only recorded on a smaller scale.
A rather cool interview with Paul Baloche, recently shown on CBN. I like his observation that the Apostle Paul is like us in that he only knew the risen Jesus. And that his new album is more focused on New Testament scripture. My review will post in the weeks ahead.
Check out the video after the jump:
Can We Just Forget About the First One?
It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of Kutless’ first stab at a worship album. (I’m pretty sure it’s the review that I received the most hate mail for during my tenure at Christianity Today.) Well, no matter—Strong Tower went Gold and became the band’s best-selling project to date. Four years later, imagine my initial disdain that Kutless had prepared a sequel, but lo and behold, It Is Well – A Worship Album by Kutless is indeed done well. Now, will fans let bygones be bygones and agree with my endorsement? And will fellow skeptics also be pleasantly surprised?
The band says they went into It Is Well wanting to offer something unique to worship music. Innovative this album is not, but at least it succeeds where Strong Tower (to my ears) failed: It’s a catchy worship project that actually rocks, and more importantly, makes me want to worship God along with it.
Castle Built On Rock, Made With Sand
Trans-Siberian Orchestra debuted 14 years ago with “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” their rocking hit based on “Carol of the Bells.” Their following has only grown since then with more than seven million albums, and their annual Christmas tour continues to impress audiences with the over-the-top production while putting them in the holiday spirit.
Despite the band’s popularity, I’d wager that most fans know TSO’s music better than the stories that inspire the albums. Each release is a self-contained rock opera written and produced by TSO founder Paul O’Neill, with detailed stories outlined amidst the lyrics in the liner notes. It’s a wonder that more don’t label TSO as a “Christian band”. O’Neill, who was raised a Catholic, develops each project as a redemption story with a loving God in the midst of it (except Beethoven’s Last Night).
Yet listeners and audiences more often seem to overlook the Christian elements of the music while rocking out to the holiday festivities, which could be seen as a weakness in TSO’s winning formula: bombast over message. That’s certainly the case with Night Castle, their first album since finishing their Christmas Trilogy in 2004, and their first non-holiday offering since Beethoven’s Last Night in 2000.