- Joy to the World
- Christmas Time Again
- Christmas in Kentucky
- Do You Hear What I Hear
- Christmas Kiss
- Let It Snow
- Christmas Time Is Here
- What Child is This?
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- Christmas Card
- We Three Kings
- I Am Joseph (God is With Us)
- Happy New Year
One of the most celebrated and respected Christian musicians in the modern CCM era, Steven Curtis’ Chapman’s 3rd Christmas album, JOY, is one of this years most uniquely written and musically arranged, featuring 6 new songs penned by Steven, as well as some well-known (and not so well-known) Christmas carols and holiday tunes, reminding listeners about the season drawing near and how it’s ‘…Christmas time again, time to gather with your family and your friends and thank God for His gift of Love on Christmas…’ (‘Christmas Time Again’). Christmastime is one of the most celebrated and memorable moments in our calendar year, and even more special, sombre and poignant for the Chapman family since the fateful year of 2008 when his youngest adoptive daughter, Maria Sue Chapman, went to be with Jesus- ‘…even as hard as things have been, it’s like the sweet is starting to outweigh the bitter for us more and more… Christmas is becoming a less hard thing for us… we can remember now without it just being so painful…’ Departing from his long-time label of Sparrow Records and being welcomed into the family of Reunion Records, sharing the artist roster with seasoned Christian artist veterans Michael W. Smith and Rebecca St. James, as well as up-and-coming bands Tenth Avenue North and Anthem Lights; Steven has been able to bring to listeners an array of musical melodies of hope and promise. Listening to the album, I can boldly state that through this 2008 tragedy, Steven and his family have been able to place their own trust in God, and be reminded (and therefore remind others) of the story Christ is writing and to not forget our place within it. With the album holistically infusing a 50s jazz-acoustic genre together with heartfelt Christmas anthems, JOY has been able to bring with it happiness and solemn reflection, as well as upbeat joy-saturated songs full of life and vibrancy, together with slow melodies of encouragement and assurance that every circumstance, ‘…could be God’s way of whispering- a story’s being told and the best is yet to come…’ (‘Happy New Year’).
Starting off the album with fan favourite ‘Joy to the World’, Steven offers up some great acoustic guitar looping riffs to start off the rhythmic beat emphasised song with a grooving atmosphere. With this rendition of the song one of the most joyful of all, Steven reminds us of the joy that ought to be in us and with us because of the season of joy that is coming upon us- the birth of Christ has led to ‘…no more let sins and sorrows grow…[for] He comes to make His blessings known…’ Adding a tag towards the end of the song is a great addition to a great carol overall, with Steven declaring that we’d ‘…sing for joy from the top of the mountains, sing for joy from the dark valley floor, til the ends of the earth let the news of His birth ring loud, sing joy to the world…’ and together with the African Children’s Choir, present a quality ending and a great anthemic build; as well as a message needing to be heard by everyone this Christmas as we fully understand God’s message of hope and joy, not just for Christmas but for all our years on earth! ‘What Child is This’ is also another carol on the album that has the ‘acoustic-folk’ treatment, as Steven’s vocals reign above the music to create a light musical feel as we sway along to the lyrics set to the music of ‘Greensleeves’. The proclamation of Christ the King is fittingly poignant as listeners are met with the truth of God incarnate, and as Steven also writes a tag to seemingly fit at the end of this track- ‘…this is our God, this is our King, this is our Saviour, we will forever sing…’, sung also alongside the Children’s Choir; I am able to plunge right into the truths laid out for me as I declare along with Steven my identity in Christ the King! Well done Steven for these great 2 carol renditions.
‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ is one of my favourite Christmas carols, and as Steven employs a keyboard glockenspiel undertone with a subtle hint of a fiddle, this version of a Christmas classic is one of my favourites. As we remember this Christmas of ‘…the child, the child, sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light…’, we are able to join along with Steven in the declaration, with the African Children’s Choir adding a great orchestral feel together with the string instruments. Steven also presents to us some of his favourite holiday melodies in ‘Let it Snow’, which features a long and soothing piano and bass instrumental; and a favourite of his, ‘Christmas Time is Here’, a beloved song from the animated cartoon, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. As we are met with Steven’s enthusiasm with the song- ‘…I’ve always loved that! I love Snoopy! I love ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and have always wanted to do that song…’ we are given an intimate recording of the song, with just Steven and his guitar, singing along to the lyrics that remind us that ‘…Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer…’ and be reminded ourselves of the greatest gift that is able to give us the most happiness in Jesus’s birth, our salvation come to earth! ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ is another Christmas carol (albeit not a traditional or necessarily well-known one) that Steven covers on JOY, and though only played with an acoustic guitar, is far from bleak as the song title may suggest. While the song progresses in an acoustic way, listeners are able to soak in the lyrical treasures of the song, and how ‘…what can I give Him, give Him my heart…’, a song of offering to the Lord as we declare our intentions to give everything we are to Him, knowing that though it may be a painful experience, it will nevertheless be rewarding as we are transformed and renewed to be more like Jesus, especially during a time when more reflection, good cheer and heartfelt giving is all the more welcomed during a time of celebration and praise. Well done Steven for these songs that remind us of our the precious time that is upon us, and the hope it brings to all mankind as we enjoy our family, friends, and the presence of God with us this Christmas!
With Steven infusing a contemporary pop sound together with a throwback to 50’s music, first Christmas single and original track ‘Christmas Time Again’ is a great vintage-sounding track about celebrating the holiday season, with family, friends, as well as the God of the universe right by our sides too! Underneath the acoustic guitar strums, strings and the ‘ba-ba’ background vocals, Steven still gives us a clear reminder of the true reason for the season, understanding that ‘…we’re gonna thank God for His gift of Love…this Christmas…’ A swaying melody co-written with his son Caleb, complete with a bass-prominent instrumental bridge, ‘Christmas Time Again’ leads into another original track, ‘Christmas in Kentucky’. Singing about the town in which he grew up in, Steven pays homage to his childhood as he reminisces about the Christmas times of his younger years, yet also giving listeners a bigger vision as he proclaims that ‘…it’s Christmas in Kentucky, it’s Christmas in LA, in the desperate streets of India and the African plains, listen and you’ll hear the angels heralding the news, glory to God in the highest and on this Earth, God is with us…’ As we are met with a complete global understanding that wherever we are, people across Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas and Africa are celebrating Jesus’ birth and giving praise to the King; we can be encouraged by our fellow brothers and sisters, though seas away in other continents, yet equally present in spirit as collectively, we give praise to Jesus these December holidays.
Christmas is always a happy and joyous time of the year, but not for everyone- which is the catalyst for ‘Christmas Card’, my favourite song on the album as it speaks poignantly about those who may be struggling with issues and challenges. Starting with a piano riff, Steven launches into comforting words, and how he is ‘…sending you this Christmas card to let you know somebody loves you, and I’m singing you this little song to let you know you’re not alone…’ Challenging, comforting, encouraging and inspiring, I am certain that just like Christmas singles ‘Christmas is all in the Heart’ and ‘All I Really Want’ of his previous albums, ‘Christmas Card’ will be able to make an impact in the lives of those who truly need to hear the comforting words of the Father. A stirring anthem that it is, Steven provides his heart behind the song, and how ‘…I literally had tears in my eyes thinking about how many people are just hurting…I wanted to write something for [them] and say, ‘Somebody loves you.’ It’s the whole meaning of Christmas…’ as we become convicted to spread our love, cheer and assistance to those in need. Segueing from this heartfelt melody is Steven’s attempt (and quite a good one) to sing in character with each person in the Bible involved with the Christmas story, through the song ‘I Am Joseph (God is With Us)’. As Steven poignancy declares his ability to relate to each of the Christmas story players (from identifying with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, King Herod and the wise men), we are encouraged that no matter what part we play in the grand unfolding of the story of Christ and His reign, we are able to know that ‘…God is with us, God is for us…’ An amazing fact depicted through acoustics and light percussion, the assurance that we can bring ‘…all our hopes and hurts and fears, all of our unworthiness and shame…’ is enough to place this melody, along with ‘Christmas Card’ is my two favourite songs on JOY. Well done Steven for such a moving experience of heartfelt praise.
Overall: Ending the album with ‘Happy New Year’ and declaring that ‘…the God who made everything is remaking everything…’, Steven’s 3rd Christmas album is one of his best, as we start to remember the joy and cheer that ought to arise through the season of festivity and remembrance of Christ and His sacrifice. With Steven giving us encouragement into this Christmas- ‘…It’s new life and new beginnings…’, JOY’s great infusion of 50s pop/rock and contemporary reflective worship is able to make this release one of the most ingenious of the year along with Josh Wilson’s Noel, Lincoln Brewster’s Joy to the World and Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy. As we start to place the Christ back into Christmas and reflect upon the significance of the holiday, we are to be encouraged by His unending love, and inspired and convicted to share His love with those who are less fortunate. A certain purchase for his fans, as well as those who have contemporary pop artists like Michael W. Smith, Josh Wilson or Brandon Heath; Steven’s first release on Reunion Records is a good one, reminding creation that ‘…as we celebrate, how Love came down, now all the lost and lonely broken hearts can be found…’ (‘Christmas Card’). Well done Steven for this riveting album full of heart, emotion and a chance for a new beginning!
RIYL: Josh Wilson, Brandon Heath, Michael W. Smith, Leeland