Prime Cuts: Joy to the World (You Are My Joy), For All That You've Done, O Holy Night (Night Divine)
If Momford and Sons have first cousins in contemporary Christian music they would be Rend Collective. Rend Collective brings to the Christian music genre a raw streak of rootsy Americana that borrows the expressiveness of neo-hippie rock and the rustic folk of Guy Clark & Emmylou Harris; music that is far more gritty, organic, and raw than vast swath of today's country music. Thus, as the titular of this disc "Campfire Christmas Vol. 1" defines, the music here will not only take you out to the wilderness where you can hear the rustling of trees and experience the warmth exuding out of these campfire songs, but you will also experience their brand of folk-rock that gives this record its contemporary teeth. "Campfire Christmas Vol. 1" is Rend Collective's debut Christmas album that they have chosen to release independently, while most of their other albums were released by Integrity Music (Planetshakers, Darlene Zschech, Paul Baolche). Since the titular signals that this is the first volume, we can therefore expect more installments of such releases in the years ahead.
Christmas albums are a tricky affair. There are some artists who have gone the surefire but somehow pedantic route where they have recorded a CD's worth of traditional carols and hymns associated with the festive season. In recent months, Sandi Patty and Guy Penrod's recent albums are such prime examples. Then, there are those like Aaron Shust who have refused to be Festive Greens; they have chosen to create an album of entirely brand new songs for the season. Rend Collective have chosen yet another creative direction. They have chosen the middle of the road route where they do indulge in a few of the indispensables, a few originals, and a few creative hybrids. With regards to the latter, they have taken the tried-and-true carols and merge them with new verses and chorus and sometimes even with brand new songs.
Time wise, though the album contains 11 songs, it only clocks in at 36 minutes. The album opens with a terse campy sing-along of "We Wish You a Merry Little Christmas" that only caps at 1:04 minutes. While "Ding Dong Merrily on High (The Celebration's Starting)" may have a long song title, but the song finishes as fast as the rapid-fire banjo licks. For a campfire Christmas, they do get quite aggressive with the drums on "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (Glory in the Highest)." Giving "Joy to the World" a more introspective "application," the band tags on their newly composed "You are My Joy" to the carol. As a result "Joy to the World (You Are My Joy)" sounds more worshipful and devotional. If there are churches looking for a Christmas song to sing in worship during Christmas, this is a strong and recommendable contender.
As the ambers of the campfire flickers, lead singer Gareth Gilkeson gets intimate with just his vocals and an acoustic guitar as he delivers a stunning version of "O Holy Night (Night Divine)." Gilkeson's rendition here shows that what's needed to move the soul are not the hypes of polytechnics, but a voice birthed out of a heart of worship. "Shining Light" and "For All That You've Done," both of which are Rend Collective originals, have a Neil Young rootsy balladry vibe to them. Both songs again showcase the unvarnished yet engaging vocals of Gilkeson, with the latter being a hymn-like song of thankful worship that is fetching for the soul. While many Christmas albums are highly polished with big orchestrated songs, "Campfire Christmas Vol. 1" is down to earth, gritty, organic and raw in drawing us to worship in an intimate way.
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