Prime Cuts: The Mystery, The Table, Away in a Manger (He is Here)
Overall Grade: 4/5
The album cover of Darlene Zschech's new Christmas album is most telling. There's no snow-covered mistletoes; there's no picture of Zschech cozying up by a fireplace; and thank goodness there's no pic of dear old Saint Nick. Darlene Zschech has wisely savaged Christmas music from the North American stereo typing and hijacking. And this is reflected also throughout the musical content. On this record, you won't hear schmaltzy strings and synth-created bells chiming endlessly in the background. Rather, this album has an intimate backing that is reflective and nurturing. This is thanks to Zschech who returns back to the co-producer chair (incidentally, Zschech was the one who produced or co-produced most of Hillsong Worship's up till 2006's "Mighty to Save").
Zschech again breaks the stereo-type by focusing the album around the much neglected theme of how Jesus comes to dine with us. This biblical thread is best expounded in the album's title track and lead single "The Table." A song that gives expression to the album, "The Table" is fluorished with inviting lines such as It doesn't matter what we've done/'Cause Jesus eats with everyone. Showcasing what a veteran worship leader she is, she turns the traditional carol "O Come All Ye Faithful" into an 8-minute worship experience without any tiresome note to boot. Though "Away in a Manger (He is Here)" is sung for most parts by the children in her church, Zschech comes in at the last coda as if to give her benediction on the children that makes this Christmas carol extra special.
In keeping with Zschech's passion to mentor future leaders, she has invited members of her creative team to write and sing. However, this time her team members are not as strong as the members of her former church, Hillsong. Luke Taylor who gets to sing lead vocals on two songs has the most potential. His original "The Mystery" is a strong contender to be sung in churches with its simple yet effective melody. Though one would have wished Zschech would have sung leads on "O Holy Night," Taylor holds his notes well with verve. However, the same can't be said of Beth Gleeson who sounds flat and colourless singing next to Zschech on "Silent Night (In a Moment)." The trio of youngsters who sing the medley "Angels We Have Heard On High/Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" may pass muster in an average church service, but on record, they make the song sound like a rough demo that still needs lots of touch ups.
This album would have gotten a perfect rating if there were more Darlene Zschech. Seriously, on a 12 track-record, we have 2 instrumentals and 8 cuts sung by her church members, this only leaves 2 cuts where Zschech sings solo and uninterrupted. Most people who purchase this album buy it because of Zschech and when she's so under represented, this can be underwhelming.
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