Prime Cuts: A Christmas to Believe in, Unto Us, Join the Angels
Matthew West drops his inhibitions when it comes to his new album "Unto Us: A Christmas Collection." Whilst his former albums have been commercially successful producing a slew of gigantic hits, there's a constraint in them restraining West to truly express himself. These albums have been good but they are always a shade shy from excellence. With this Christmas album, the commercial scaffolds are eradicated and what we get is West in his most comfortable best. Rather than musically constructing within the blueprint of the demands of CCM radio, this record finds West exploring an array of styles often foreign to his own recordings. Here you will find West dabbling in big band ballad ("A Christmas to Believe In"), rock n' roll ("Join the Angels"), and even congregational worship ("Unto Us").
"Unto Us" is the second time West has put his toes into the festive waters. In 2011, he released "The Heart of Christmas," which gave West his debut Christmas #1 single "Give This Christmas Away," a duet with Amy Grant. Incidentally, "Give This Christmas Away" is also Grant's final #1 Christian single to date. However, be warned, "Unto Us" is not exactly a brand new album of 10 new songs. Only the first half of the album is new. The remaining five songs are actually lifted directly from West's first Christmas release. For those who have bought the earlier record, this will definitely cause some disappointing aftertaste.
So, instead of reviewing the entire disc, the bulk of our attention will only be on the new songs only, that is, the first 5 cuts. The title cut "Unto Us" finds West branching out into a congregational worship offering. With some sun-soaked keyboard riffs and bright crisp guitar riffs, "Unto Us" will definitely set aflame hearts in worship when sung in churches. Never one to replicate himself, "The First Noel (Sing Noel)" returns West to the traditional trough. With a fresh pulsating bass line and an echo-y choir singing "Sing Noel" in the background, West puts his own sonic signature on this evergreen hymn.
Lenna Crawford joins West in what sounds like a country cum folk rendition of "Silent Night" that is stunning in a subtle understated way. Within his non-seasonal canon, West has never indulge in a big ballad with all the trimmings of the lush orchestrated sounds. But he does this with "A Christmas to Believe In." With great attention paid to glowing details from the sentimentality of slow dancing under the Christmas lights to the birth of Jesus Christ, West brings together the sentimentality as well as the spirituality of the season. Prepare for some rock n' roll fun with "Join the Angels;" with finger snaps and a really groovy tune, West really sounds like he's enjoying himself.
Other than the fact that this is just half of an album of new songs, "Unto Us" is a stellar effort. West has never sounded more free, confident and in his own element. And the 5 new songs are just fabulous; no filler material added.