Prime Cuts: O Holy Night, That Spirit of Christmas, What Christmas Needs to Be
Christmas music is seriously in need of a work out. Often tacitly designated as elevator muzak with its wisp sentimentality backed by effeminate-sounding orchestration, there is a dire need for more brawny barrel-chested Christmas albums. Thus, in a culture of gangling Christmas packages, we thank God for John Schlitt's "The Christmas Project." Featuring lots of herculean guitar riffs and Schlitt's larger than life muscled rock vocals, Schlitt has re-defined Christmas music via his latest album by adding the adjective 'rock" to it. As far as 80s-styled Christian rock music is concern, 2014 is the year of its resurgence. Earlier this month we just welcomed the much anticipated brand new studio album of Bible-tossing 80s rock band Stryper. Back track a few months more and we were blessed with former Kansas' front man John Elefante's "On My Way to the Sun." Now, we have ex-Petra's John Schiltt returning with his fan-funded "The Christmas Project."
Schlitt as most would recall has been in the music ministry for nearly 40 years. Starting off as the lead singer of Head East in the 70s before carrying the mantel for Petra in the mid-80s, Schlitt has garnered for the group 2 RIAA Gold albums ("Beyond Belief" and "Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out"), 4 Grammy wins and numerous Dove awards. Even after Petra has retired, Schlitt has had never called it a day. Together with ex-Petra cohort Bob Hartman, they continued on as II Guys from Petra. After which Schlitt has even released a number of solo recordings. Yet, despite all his prodigious releases, he has had never released a Christmas record until now. Somehow the typical mawkish sounds of festive offerings are at odds with the rock fiber so ingrained in Schlitt's soul. Finally, with the help of his son-in-law Dan Needham on the producer's chair, Schlitt has decided to do a Christmas project his own way.
Featuring 9 traditional Christmas tunes and one original, the opening track Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" is about to throw fans off their seats. Schlitt and Handel are as polar opposites as water and fire. But yet it works: starting off with the expected old school harmony of vocals backed by chamber music, the layered voices vanish when Schlitt makes his grand entrance. With his screeching electric guitar, he belts out a rocking "King of kings, Lord of lords" turning an ersatz classical-bending intro into a full- fledged rocking shout-out to Jesus. The guitars are at the fore as Schlitt gives "Do You Hear What I Hear" a rock workout drawing upon some Southern country rock vibes. And on "The Little Drummer Boy" Schlitt is most his element as he goes full throttle on the vocal front showcasing that age has not rob him of an iota of his sky-reaching vocal glory.
Schlitt shows some restrain on his reverential take of "O Holy Night" and "We Three Kings." However, one has to give credit to Schlitt and Needham for bringing to light some of the more obscured verses of the latter carol. Nevertheless, what is most rewarding about the record are the lesser known offerings. "That Spirit of Christmas," often associated with Ray Charles, shows a mellower side of this 63 year-old rocker as he revels in the familial warmth of the season. While "What Christmas Needs to Be" is a rollicking hook-laden Schlitt original which finds this ex-Petra getting to the heart of Christmas when he sings: "It's Christmas now/The Gift of Heaven given/Love can be found/In every heart that hears it/A Baby crowned/The hope of our salvation/ He Is what Christmas needs to be." If you are sick of the Christmas muzak we get bombarded with at the malls and you are looking for a more statuesque Christmas record to groove to, look no further than Schlitt's "The Christmas Project."
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