- The Day After Thanksgiving
- The Christmas Song
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
- Just a Girl
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- Momma Wouldn’t Lie to Me
- Away in a Manger
- Go Tell It On The Mountain
- Silent Night
- O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High
2012 was my favourite year for Christmas music. From Jason Gray and Steven Curtis Chapman, to Josh Wilson, Francesca Battistelli and Lincoln Brewster, Christmas albums that released in 2012 were able to deliver great musically choreographed songs to edify the soul and warm the heart during the holiday season. Now with 2013 rolling around into another holiday season, Brandon Heath, famous for his hits ‘Your Love’, ‘Give Me Your Eyes’ and ‘I’m Not Who I Was’; has decided to step onto the Christmas album tradition for CCM artists, this time offering 10 hits (a mixture of carols, holiday melodies and a few original Christmas songs) of an acoustic/folk/bluegrass nature, closely following his musical backdrop that he employed during his last album, Blue Mountain. Fans of Brandon will love this album as much as his previous ones, as well as fans of other artists like David Crowder, Bebo Norman or Andrew Peterson. While this is not necessarily your conventional CCM-like Christmas album, to be fair, no Christmas album to date has been CCM like- Meredith Andrews’s Behold the Saviour delivers a worshipful sound, while Sidewalk Prophets’s Merry Christmas to You evokes a blues/motown feel. Brandon’s unique ability to bring his ethereal vocals matched with his acoustic guitar playing ability together to bring to us melodies that we can listen and reflect to this Christmas season is something that propels this album to be one of my favourite Christmas albums of the year so far.
With a great variety of both holiday and Christmas carol melodies, Brandon offers us some acoustic goodness in some of the most beloved and respected carols that have been known to both lovers of CCM and mainstream music alike. ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’, ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’, and ‘Silent Night’; all show and remind us of God’s faithfulness and blessing to us as we witness and hear Brandon deliver his powerful voice alongside stripped back electric guitars and prominent acoustics throughout each track. Released as a single before the album was released, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ possesses just an acoustic guitar and Brandon singing, reminding myself of something Bebo Norman would do, either on Christmas or studio albums. As Brandon reminds listeners that ‘…our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain, heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign…’; we are able to rest in such a soothing melody that has become one of the most underrated and underplayed Christmas melodies. While the only other versions of the song that I know are ones from Steven Curtis Chapman and Paul Colman, Brandon’s version of a joyous and reflective melody reminds us that even underrated songs and melodies we may not have heard or sung if it wasn’t for these artists covering them; deserve a chance to be placed in our hearts and minds during this season of happiness, hopefulness, cheer and worship. ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’, following a similar music backdrop as ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, with light twangy electric guitars and a southern country atmosphere to it, also reminds us of our need to be aware and understand God’s great gift in Jesus to us all. The powerful chorus of Brandon declaring out for everyone to ‘…go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere…that Jesus Christ is born…’ is one of the great highlights of the song and album in general. While I may have anticipated more drums or even some harder hitting guitars to bring the song up to a new level instead of leaving it at a reflective state (and in turn, a song that could almost be like a lullaby to listeners who may not have great attention span in songs); the song nonetheless is an invitation for us to share the gospel wherever we go.
And while I wasn’t necessarily impressed with ‘Away in a Manger’ or ‘Silent Night’- Brandon slows down ‘Away in a Manger’ and adds light acoustics, to the point where I almost fell asleep in the song…but kudos to Brandon for trying something different and unique musically; ‘Silent Night’ is a reflective melody that’s basically too short. 2 minutes 25 seconds with choirs and light keyboard effects equals a song that’s reminiscent of something that’ll be sung in a church with an organ, which may not relate as well to a generation of Christians and non-Christians that need to hear Christmas melodies in a relevant, unique and enjoyable way. Despite these carol mishaps, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ utilises its 3:03 duration to give us a light acoustic melody destined to be one of my favourites on Christmas is Here. With powerful vocals and a unique acoustic guitar beat, Brandon lets listeners know of the night in Bethlehem when Christ the Saviour was born. Lastly, ‘The Christmas Song’ stays quite true to the original, but when you’ve heard the tremendous rendition of the melody by Francesca Battistelli on her album last year, to hear the song once again slowed down is something to be adjusted to. On the whole, Brandon’s Christmas carols (amounting to 7, inclusive of the ‘O Come All Ye Faithful/Angels We Have Heard on High’ medley, which frankly is a poor rendition, as the horns and upbeat nature of the song clashes with the rest of his subdued material, as well as the disjointedness of the two songs- the tempo changes mid-way to accommodate the two tracks, and you wonder if they were pasted together rather than recorded together in one take) is a bit of a hit and miss. Regardless of the interesting renditions of songs we know and love so well; Brandon’s unique music arrangements is enough to warrant at least a listen to his carols, and therefore in turn, his original melodies may also be listened to (which are far better and on a different level when compared to the rest of the songs on Christmas is Here).
Original songs are always some of my favourite Christmas songs- from Steven Curtis Chapman’s ‘Christmas Card’ and Third Day’s ‘Merry Christmas’, to Josh Wilson’s ‘Jesus is Alive’ and for King and Country’s ‘Baby Boy’; original Christmas songs always bring something new, fresh, invigorating and exciting to the table in terms of songs that’ll hopefully be sung for many, many more years during the Christmas season. Brandon is no exception and no stranger to original melodies. A while back he wrote and recorded his two singles, ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and ‘Glorious, Merciful Saviour’; each reminding us of God’s precious Son and the night in which He was conceived and given to the world. While both these songs weren’t included on the 10 track Christmas album (it is a shame, because those two original tracks are perhaps my favourite Christmas songs from Brandon ever), Brandon does show us 3 newly recorded melodies, in ‘Momma Wouldn’t Lie to Me’, ‘The Day After Thanksgiving’, and ‘Just a Girl’.
‘The Day After Thanksgiving’ is a piano prominent melody infusing blues and motown to give us a tongue-in-cheek where Brandon states that he doesn’t want to see or experience anything Christmas-y, the ‘…I don’t wanna hear about santa Claus coming, no silver bells or a dozen drummers drumming, I don’t want to see an inflatable nothing, til the day after thanksgiving…’ While the song is a fun filled melody full of unique musical arrangements, it does possess a serious side to the song, as we are reminded not to quicken the holiday, to the point when it becomes more of a consumption (and over-consumption), rather than just biding time and waiting to experience one of the most important traditions, both in the Christian and more recently the non-Christian calendar. If we try to hurry up Christmas as this song suggests, we can in fact be rushing the season, rather than savouring and enjoying it as much as possible. Also giving us ‘Momma Wouldn’t Lie to Me’, a jazz infused song that delivers great satire and talks about how mothers and fathers around the world still let their kids believe in Santa, even though they know he’s not real, and the repercussions of that as the kid declares his trust in mom and dad ‘…because momma wouldn’t lie to me…’; as well as ‘Just a Girl’, an acoustic and string emphasised melody reminding me of some Christmas arrangements SCC would try to accomplish, as a tale is given to listeners from the perspective on the innkeeper and what he would’ve felt on the night Jesus was born; Brandon’s newly written songs are some of the best lyrically written ones since Jason Gray’s songwriting ability in his own Christmas album in 2012. These three songs certainly bring up the rating from a high ‘2’ to a solid ‘3’, and therefore being one of the most uniquely interesting Christmas albums this year, and the most different since David Crowder*Band’s Oh For Joy!
Overall: Brandon Heath’s first Christmas album is a unique one to take a listen. Delving into a variety of music genres, from reflective style music to jazz, motown, blues, acoustic and upbeat with French horns; the album which releases on the same day as Natalie Grant’s Hurricane is one to cheer the hearts and souls of anyone who listens. While not necessarily the most enjoyable to those who may prefer rock or heavy metal music, Brandon’s knack for creating great originally written Christmas songs is what gives this album the positive feedback that it generally obtains. From ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ to ‘Just a Girl’; we are reminded of the holiday season and the reason behind it. What the album lacks in less electric guitar and drums, it more than makes up for with heart, emotion, poignancy and hope. Well done Brandon for a unique, different, powerful and compelling Christmas album, and one of my own picks for Christmas album of the year in the 2014 Dove Awards!
RIYL: Steven Curtis Chapman, Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Josh Wilson