Every year, come October to December, we are drenched with a torrent of Christmas albums. We have decided to select, out of the numerous albums sent our way, our 7 favorites. In order to qualify, the record needs to be released this year and they need to have had been sent to us. So, after much deliberations and thoughts, here are our favorites (with excerpts from our reviews).
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").
"Hope of All Hopes" is judiciously balanced in terms of offering both originals as well as the more familiar carols. And unlike many other efforts, the originals actually are in par or even better in terms of the songs' quality relative to the covers. Though often marketed as a worship band (and there are definitely some tunes geared towards corporate worship), on this record, the band actually branches out to incorporate some more jazzy instrumentals as well as more devotional (and personal) pieces.
Fans have secretly (and some a little more audaciously) wished JJ Heller would record a Christmas album. She has a pure crystalline voice akin to Jewel that can bring out the frolicking fun of making snow angels in the season's pallid beauty. Yet, she also possesses a smoky sophistication of say a Diana Krall that can bring out the romantic charm of sipping egg nog over the fire place. Finally, Heller's debut Christmas effort "Unto Us" is upon us. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the album, with its gorgeous use of strings, piano, and a jazzy undertone, harkens back to the sepia tone days of those Christmas records created by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald. This is thanks to producers Brown Bannister and Ben Shive. Both of which have had the repertoire of making some of music finest releases including classic albums by Amy Grant, Andrew Peterson, Brandon Heath, Steven Curtis Chapman, Paul Overstreet, and CeCe Winans.
Nevertheless, "Christmas" is the best out of Berry's festive cannon. Part of the reason that led to such favouritism is that the songs here are all top drawer material. Relative to other Christmas releases, the quota of originals is higher. Only 4 out of the 10 tracks are covers. Even with the covers, they are magnificently chosen. This is because Berry knows how to play on his own strength. Josh Groban's "You Raised Me Up," Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You Know," and "O Holy Night" all require that full-bodied gusto of a voice to carry, a trait that is native to Berry. As for the originals, they are jaw-dropping gorgeous. "Let Us Be" shows us that Berry's time spent in Gospel music was not in vain. A worship song addressed to God; worship leaders will do well to include this track as part of their Sunday worship set list.
In her slower and folkier epoch, comes "Tennessee Christmas." Reflective of her third trimester, "Tennessee Christmas" is not a hurried affair. Every song here is warmly executed with the soft shimmering of acoustic instruments. Though there are uptempos, they are not overpowered by zany guitar riffs or ear-popping drum blasts. Rather each song takes its time to bring out something special about Christmas, its meaning, its traditions, and its celebrations.
"Majesty in a Manger" is one of the most succinct and striking thesis for what Christmas is all about. The titular itself captures judiciously the transcendence of the Christ Child as well as the kenosis act of the king coming as a diaper-wrapped baby. But more than the title, the songs on this new Integrity Music release bear testimony to these two indispensable yet intertwined truths in glorious ways across the album's 11 tracks. Thus, this album gives worship leaders and pastors a thesaurus of Christ-exalting vocabulary to fill our worship this Christmas and beyond. "Majesty in a Manger" is therefore more than just an album for our personal devotions, this is a rich treasure trove that could be use to enrich our church's corporate worship over the festive season.
Everything that Matt Redman writes is for the church. Even for this Christmas release, all the 11 tracks here are tailored to aid the church in her corporate worship. In this regard, worship leaders who are looking to resource the church with newly crafted tunes over the Advent and Christmas will find this record a treasure trove. Moreover, "These Christmas Lights" is also an audacious effort. Unlike other Christmas records, Redman's scribal skills are interwoven into every track on this album. Though he utilizes some traditional hymns but they are often integrated with his own compositions making this album a rare kind of its own. This essentially means that all the tracks here are new; you won't hear yet another version of the Biblical uninformed "We Three Kings" or the ultra-cheesy "Baby It's Cold Outside."
Tags : christmas albums 2016 hallels favorite christmas albums 2016 Matt Redman Darlene Zschech john berry JJ Heller new hope oahu dream records majesty in a manger Integrity Music Matthew West Amy Grant amy grant tennessee christmas jj heller unto us album review