Prime Cuts: Star of Wonder, Advent Carol, Sanctuary
Aaron Shust's "Unto Us" is a labor of love and it shows. In this day of where polytechnics flourish, it's easy for any artist to piece together a Christmas album in record time done within the shoelace of a budget. After all, if you pick the traditional favorite carols such as "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night," it's difficult for critics to harangue and fans would be just too eager to gallop whatever's on the platter. But not Aaron Shust; he has been planning, envisaging and writing this record his entire life. These 10 tracks unfold like a musical cantata that tell the story of Christmas in three movements. Starting with proclamation, the first five songs deal with heralding the good news of Jesus' birth. The penultimate segment (tracks 6 to 8) are songs with the adoration of the Christ-child as their cynosure. While the record ends with a couple of songs that celebrate the birth in Christ.
Dove award winning Aaron Shust has become a mainstay in contemporary Christian music 2006 when his hit single "My Savior, My God," became a #1 on 6 different charts. And his Centricity Records debut "This is What We Believe" charter for him his biggest single to date "My Hope is You." Solidifying his status as one of Christian music's stalwart artists is last year's "God of Brilliant Lights." "Unto Us" is not just a coherent piece where each song is an essential component of the narrative plot, the record itself is big production affair. Travelling to Czech Republic to record with the Prague Symphony Orchestra for 8 of the 10 songs, they have created a musical masterpiece as if it was made for a Disney Christmas movie.
Album opener "Star of Wonder," an instrumental ode that utilizes the lush sounds of bells and strings coterminous with eclectic instruments such as the bouzouki, here we align ourselves with the wise men making our way to the Christ-child. "Gloria" interweaves Shust's contemporary rock voice with the ethereal sounds of a children's choir giving us a powerful orchestrated worship piece with a modern pop sensibility. Inspired by a carol in an old hymnal, "Advent Carol" is besotted with some delightful displays of the piano and soaring orchestrated strings creating an exhilarating sound pulverizing us to the song's message about Christ's incarnation. Though these songs are originals, Shust and producer David Hamilton (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith) are wise enough to embedded lines of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" into "Bethlehem," making the connection with the traditions of the season studier.
Most heartfelt is "Sanctuary," which finds Shust singing together with the Nashville Boys Choir, the song almost sounds like it was made for a high church service. But the message of how Christ has come to make a sanctuary in our hearts so that we can be inoculated from fear takes a deep dive into our hearts. Yet, Shust has not abandoned his own pop-rock sensibilities. "Unto Us," "Rejoice," and "God Has Come to Earth" are more in tune with his own repertoire that somehow pale from his more orchestrated pieces. Nevertheless, every note on "Unto Us" is so gorgeously crafted that the sounds of the CD produced are heavenly driving us to the Christ-child.