Prime Cuts: Perfect Love, Hallelujah, Jesus, What a Beautiful Name
There are two types of Christmas albums. The first are those that prep us up for the sentimentality of the season. It's the type of disc you shove into your CD player while you hang the Christmas lights, sip on your eggnog, get ready to write your Christmas cards and try to rekindle those childhood tingles of Yuletides past. Then there are other CDs that have a way of coming alongside you and they automatically inspire you (even without a hint of prompting) to sing along as you thoughts are channeled to worshipping God. Hillsong Live's latest "It's Christmas" belongs to the latter. It's not serendipitous that over 25% of worship music sung across Australia today comes from Hillsong Church. It hardly surprises us that after 6 out of CCLI top 25 of the most popular worship songs sung across churches in the US come from this Australian mega church. And in an arena once dominated by male worship leaders, it is quite understandable why Christendom would embrace Hillsong's Darlene Zschech as one of the pioneering females to front a worship team. It all has to do their music: it doesn't cajole us in anyway. Rather, with their Christ-centered lyrics coupled with their passionate singing, Hillsong's music automatically inspires worship --- this includes even their Christmas offering.
"It's Christmas" is essentially a repackaged release of two out of the three festive albums they have had released: 2001's "Christmas" and 2005's "Celebrating Christmas." Christmas at Hillsong Australia has always been a highlight. Each year at their Christmas Spectacular they put on a Christmas musical that runs for a few weekends where members can invite their non-church friends to attend. Unlike many hooky church events which can be an embarrassment for non-believers, each year Hillsong's Christmas Spectacular is a class act in itself. Inspired by these Spectaculars are their ensuing Christmas albums. Of the two releases, 2001's "Christmas" is a tad superior with a more cohesive feel as Darlene Zschech is featured on most of the tracks here. The major misstep with 2005's "Celebrating Christmas" is that Zschech only sings lead on two cuts with the lead vocals for the rest of the album coming from too many nondescript worship leaders.
So, let's start with 2001's "Christmas." Despite the album's pedestrian titular, Darlene Zschech and Russell Fragar's "Perfect Love" is nothing short of sublime. Singing with the tenderness of a mother, here Zschech steps into the shoes of Mary as she praises God for all the wonders this diaper-wearing baby would be bringing. As far as worship is concerned, Zschech's self-penned "Hallelujah" will bring us from being bench warmers to worship quarterbacks with its awe-inspiring made for congregational worship melodic call. Of note also is Hillsong's brilliance in donning some of their worship staples with a festive garb, here we get a Christmasy take of their "Jesus, What a Beautiful Name," albeit on an accelerated jolly pace. Among the plethora of originals are also some of more traditional carols. Zschech and Mark Stevens offer a spirited take of synth-heavy take of "O Holy Night" which in hindsight has a dated 90s Quiet Storm patina.
2006's "Celebrating Christmas" is more an ad hoc affair with far too many of those who sang at the Christmas Spectacular taking many of the leads. Zschech does step to the microphone on an ultra hip pop take of "Angels We Have Heard on High" which also features Reuben Morgan's "Gloria" folded into this cherished carol. "O Rejoice" finds one of Hillsong's favorite writers Mia Fieldes offering one of her best worship ballad for Zschech to croon. Miriam Webster (who wrote "Made Me Glad") adds her supple alto to "Savior Christ the King" a song that offers a meaty exposition of the social and political repercussions of the reconciliation Christ brings through His advent. With 26 songs that span across two CDs, "It's Christmas" is indeed a generous offering. If you are looking for a Christmas album that does more than conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings but that actually calls us into the presence of King, look no further than Hillsong's "It's Christmas."
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