Prime Cuts: What Kind of Love?, The Sound, Everything Changes at Christmas
If you have been to church long enough, you would know all the overwrought clichéd answers to the standard religious questions people often asked. One of them being: what's the meaning of Christmas? It's not so much about Santa, his reindeers and his sleigh. Rather Jesus is the reason for the season. Though the answer is spot on; it's so superficially and thoughtlessly recycled that the varnish of how the truth impacts us has long been eradicated. Carolyn Arends, being a gifted and seminal writer herself (in fact she has just released her new book "Theology in Aisle Seven"), is not into trite platitudes. Rather, these are songs with shafts deep enough that they will keep us mediating. They are acerbic enough that they pierce the soul to get us to worship God with fire again. And they are piquant enough that when Arends sings about the little details of life, we can't help but nod our heads with a smile expressed across our faces.
Hailed from Surrey, British Columbia in Canada, Carolyn Arends is a veteran in contemporary Christian music. Way back in 1995, she burst onto the scene with her Billboard Top 40 Christian Chart debut album "I Can Hear You," which contains the hits "This is the Stuff" and the title track "I Can Hear You." Ten albums, fifteen top 10 hits, three books, two Dove Awards and three Juno nominations and five years since her last album, Arends is back with her sophomore Christmas release "Christmas: Story of Stories." A highly successful crowd funded album via Kickstarter, "Christmas: Story of Stories" features nine original Arends' compositions and four covers. The originals were songs Arends has had written for the Christmas Eve service of her church over the last few years. Thus, this project is indeed a labor of love detailed with forethought, care, and intimacy.
One of the album's most winsome traits is that Arends always brings fresh and invorating perspectives to the Christmas narratives. Case in point is album opener "It was a Holy Night." Dispelling the often sentimentalized view of Christmas of silver bells decorated streets and families sipping hot chocolate singing "Silent Night" by the fire side, the country tinged "It was a Holy Night" properly situates the birth in a world of sin and violence. The piano-led "The Sound" gives us a three dimensional perspective of the season. Christmas is not just about baahing of sheep or angels singing or Mary cooing her lullaby, it's about the sound of the kingdom coming. "Dawn on Us" is an exemplar of Arends' hermeneutical prowess as she starts the song with Joseph wondering about the truth of Christmas before smoothly transitioning to our modern day scenario.
Flourishing on its attention to details, "Everything Changes At Christmas" will get us smiling to seriously reflecting as Arends sings of how Christmas makes brave of men to climb rooftops in order to deck the homes with strings of light to how a baby changes the world around. The album's lodestar however has to be "What Kind of King?" Featuring a catchy pop melody adorned with her signature vocal rasp, "What Kind of King" reminds us of Amy Grant in her prime. Nevertheless, the words are so theologically profound that they will get us ruminating all day: "What kind of plan ever goes this far?/What kind of mercy puts itself at ours?/What kind of maker walks the earth he made/From a cradle to a cross and leaves an empty grave?/What kind of love? What kind of love?" Just the very thought that God has left his Son at the mercy of human beings is itself too staggering for our minds to behold.
"Christmas: The Story of Stories" may be laidback in its sonic execution where a rootsy sound comprising of violin, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki and guitar may prevail, but the messages themselves won't leave stones unturned. They won't leave the hearts aloof. And they won't let us go until we ourselves enter the story of stories.