Prime Cuts: O Holy Night, Tell Me the Story, Carol of the Bells
The ipseity of Jesus Culture has always been their big, anthemic, and stadium-filling worship created by the sound of thousands of worshipping voices. And being the matriarch of Jesus Culture, which initially emerged as worship for young people, Kim Walker-Smith has had always been known for her live worship singing. Over the years, many of us have been acquainted with Walker-Smith as the voice and the pen holder of many of their worship songs including "Holy Spirit," "Rooftops," "In Awe of You" and "Holy." Thus far, there are only two occasions where Walker-Smith has side step away from her worship leading role. The first was when she teamed up with her husband Skyler Smith to record the acoustic sounding ruminative "Home." Now, with her debut Christmas album, "When Christmas Comes," Walker-Smith has gotten back into the studios to record these 17 tracks.
For one to fully appreciative this record for what it is, one needs to get around the fact that this is not a worship album, that is, these songs were not created in the first instance for the congregation to sing. Unless this notion is fully embraced, one would feel chafed to hear Walker-Smith singing about Rudolph, Santa Claus and the whiteness of snow. Rather, this album, like the aforementioned "Home," is more of a personal record where she reminisces about growing up and the Christmases she has had in her small farming town. And each of these 17 tracks here function like her sepia-toned photographs where she carefully reels us into her life-movie as she gently re-lives with us the emotions of singing through these songs over the course of her childhood.
But this doesn't mean that the entire is an exercise in maudlin nostalgia. Rather, there are also some powerful moments of worship where the attention is solely (and rightfully) placed on King Jesus and the truth of His reincarnation. With her well-respected producer Jeremy Edwardson (Michael W. Smith, Kari Jobe & Jesus Culture) on the helm, Walker-Smith starts off the record with album's only original piece "Tell Me the Story." Utilizing the immortal words of Fanny Crosby set to a new tune by Anthony Skinner, Walker-Smith on "Tell Me the Story" belts out a capella spine tingling cry to hear the Gospel of Jesus again. Bringing her Alanis Morissette-esque rock nuances to the bells and strings version of "Silent Night" certainly gives this traditional carol a refreshing grit. While with "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Walker-Smith steps into a time warp and returns to the big band era of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby as she swings around with the sounds of the brassy big band revealing another side of the worship leader.
With the many years of leading worship, Walker-Smith has a commanding presence that effortlessly draws us into the songs. Therefore, regardless of the countless times we may have heard of "The First Noel" or "Away in the Manger" or "O Holy Night," she still has a way of creating a sonic presence that it's hard not to pay attention to. What also deserves two thumbs up is Edwardson's creativity in production. Rather than woodenly adhere to a singular template, he varies the approach to each carol as if they were written for first time. He takes an "all in" approach with "Carol of the Bells" where we are driven to the heavens with a full-bodied sound of bells, heavy percussion and bass. Then he allows the backing to take a back seat with the acoustic country sounding "Let It Snow." While "White Christmas" gets a slow bluesy-Bonnie Raitt simmering boil.
With Walker-Smith's reputation as a worship leader, "When Christmas Comes" is a little of a surprise. But as soon as you can get passed the fact that this is not a made for congregational worship record, this is a great soundtrack for the Christmas season.
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