Prime Cuts: Emmanuel, Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, O Come O Come Emmanuel
Overall Grade: 5/5
In this age of (illegal) digital downloading and streaming, it's become less and less economically viable to release a 10-track album. Nowadays, artists have to be content with the release of EPs. Though ardent fans may gripe about this, but in many cases, this has forced many singers to filter out any filler cuts. This is certainly the case with Hannah Kerr's six-song EP "Emmanuel." From the first note to the last, every song on this EP is a winner. Moreover, this a very well-balanced record: there are two originals, two Christian-oriented Christmas carols, and two jazz-slanted secular festive offerings. This ought to satisfy all permutations of people's expectations from those who want some original entries to those who want a Christ-centered focus to those who just want to enjoy the sentiments of the season.
Produced by Sawyer Brown's lead singer Mark Miller, this is an impeccably executed record. The proceedings start with the first original piece and title track "Emmanuel." Co-written by Kerr, Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips, "Emmanuel" is a heart-stirring piano ballad that speaks of how Jesus exceeds the expectations of human beings. Set on a slightly faster pace is the other superb original "Christmas Eve in Bethlehem." Reminding us how easy it is to not seeing Jesus as reason for the season, this song is penetrating to the soul. This track ought to be filed under "the must heart Christmas songs of 2017."
Then we come to the other two Christ-centered covers: Kerr's rendition of Amy Grant's "Breath of Heaven" is actually far better than Grant's original. Without sounding as breathy as Grant, Kerr has a more convincing delivery that adds a layer of conviction not that apparent in the original. Put your earphones on when Kerr sings "O Come O Come Emmanuel," she literally breathes fire into each syllable of the chorus of this advent hymn. Then she takes the Diana-Krall route by offering a smooth-jazz take of "White Christmas." Voted by her fans as the #1 song Kerr should cover, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" gets a late evening jazz reading with the delightful sounds of soft acoustic piano.
Though there are only 6 songs on this set, there are absolutely no wasted moments. Every track stands out in their own rights. And most particularly, the two originals here are absolutely gorgeous!