Prime Cuts: Song of Noel, Christmas Instead, Give Me This Night
It takes someone with sublime talent to take the accidence of the Christmas story and make it frisson with vitality and freshness again. After hearing the narrative of Christ's birth being re-told from countless perspectives vis-à-vis the copious Christmas songs that come out each year, it's hard to say anything new again through songs. This has not stopped Donna King for crafting three new seasonal soon-to-be classics and including some lesser known covers tossed together with a few Yuletide chestnuts such as "O Holy Night," "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night." And in this regard, King excels. Whether it's her original or whether it's an oldie, she has a way of inhabiting her songs with her vocal presence and thoughtful nuances, making the story of Christ's birth come alive again. Never once over the course of these ten songs do we ever feel like King is a third-party distanced narrator. Rather, when she sings, you can feel like she has interwoven her own story with that of Christ's making Christmas come alive again with her inherent personal passion.
For many years, Donna King is the firehouse of the Christian group Hope's Call. After which, she had been behind the scenes writing and producing a copious list of songs that have graced numerous records. Lately, King has produced Mercy Well's brand new release "Today." And with her husband Zane King, the duo are readying their brand new album that is coming out later in the year. "Song of Noel" is apparently her first solo release. The proceeding begins with a jazzy blues take of "Joy to the World." King takes the time to tease out the joy of the Lord's coming awash some Hammond organ and Jerry Lee Lewis-styled piano riffs. Then she transitions into Howlett Smith's "Little Altar Boy," a soul-searching piece popularized by the Carpenters in the 70s. "Little Altar Boy" captures an imaginary conversation between a wastrel and an altar boy searching for forgiveness and meaning.
"Give Me This Night," coming from the pens of Joel Lindsey and Matthew Garinger, allows King to step inside the Christmas story. Incarnating herself in the shoes of Mary the mother of Jesus, "Give Me This Night" is a tender piece as King tries to unravel for us the complexities of emotions Mary must have had felt on that first Christmas. The title cut "Song of Noel" continues on with further ruminations from Mary's perspective. Backed with a full choir, here we get to hear King's unharnessed vocal firepower in its glorious display, which at times calls to mind Sandi Patty. Though never really considered a Christmas song, "My Favorite Things" gets a jazzy reading where the song is allowed to roam through miles and miles of melodic space.
When the tempo picks up, "Christmas Instead" is pure magical. Featuring the rustic sounding steel guitar and the romantic chiming of bells, "Christmas Instead" is the perfect marriage of the traditional sounds of the season and King's country roots. In short, "Song of Noel" is a pure sonic delight: this is an album that will get you humming through the season with King re-telling the story of the Christ child in ways that are astounding and refreshing.
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