Album Review :
Christmas: Joy to the World - Various Artists
Artist: Various Artists
Title: Christmas: Joy To The World
Label: Centricity Music
Release Date: 10/22/13
Reviewer: Jonathan Andre
- Light of the World (Lauren Daigle)
- Joy to the World (Jason Gray)
- What Child is This (Carrolton)
- Asleep in the Hay (Jonny Diaz)
- Long, Long Ago (Andrew Peterson)
- The First Noel (Lauren Daigle)
- How Many Kings (downhere)
- Feliz Navidad (Unspoken)
Christmas is officially over, and while many people around the world either debate about whether to continue to listen to Christmas music, or whether to even leave the Christmas tree up til way into January or not, I myself have found myself time and time again listening to Christmas music outside of Christmas time, as well as having the Christmas tree up, still in January or as late as February. And while many may think that all I’m doing is just trying to milk Christmas for all its worth, there is still beauty in Christmas songs, each of them unveiling the simple yet equally profound truth of Jesus’s birth. No matter if you are strict and only listen to Christmas music during December, of if you’re becoming like me, and love to start listening to Christmas music in October and finish in February (or even if you listen to Christmas and holiday music all year round), no one can deny the power of Christmas and how the music it brings is able to touch and inspire listeners around the world, whether they are of faith or not. Enter in the latest Christmas album to be released in 2013, another compilation of tracks, this time released through Centricity Music, and featuring some of the most prolific and respected artists of the past and present, as well as a few up and coming ones to be excited for in the future. With songs from established artists like downhere, who have now been on hiatus since 2012, folk/acoustic artist Andrew Peterson, and CCM singer/songwriters Jason Gray and Jonny Diaz, Christmas: Joy to the World is a great snapshot of the Centricity Music roster, one of the underrated Christian labels ever. From ‘How Many Kings’ to ‘The First Noel’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’, this 8 song album has a great balance between originally written songs, Christmas carols and holiday melodies to hopefully extend the Christmas spirit past the 25th December, into January 2014 and beyond!
While this album does have a few older melodies (namely downhere’s ‘How Many Kings’ and Andrew Peterson’s ‘Long, Long Ago’), it is these songs positioned against newer tracks that remind us of how Christmas melodies (or in fact, any CCM/worship/pop song) can be timeless. Written a few years ago, downhere’s ‘How Many Kings’ is one of my favourite originally written Christmas songs ever. While the band is currently on hiatus, their music is still impacting the industry, with songs like ‘Let Me Rediscover You’, ‘A Better Way’ and ‘The More’ being some of their highlights from a 14 year career. With Marc Martel singing about Jesus’s birth, and asking the question of ‘…How many kings step down from their thrones? How many lords have abandoned their homes? How many greats have become the least for me?…’; we are able to see the immeasurable and immense impact Christ delivered to us, and know that if it was any other earthly king (or even earthly family), would they have done the same thing to save the souls of myself and the rest of humanity? Something to ponder about, this reflective melody uses great harmonies between Marc and Jason Germain, as well as some unique keyboard riffs and a light electric guitar music undertone. A standout and highlight on this album, even all these years later, downhere continues to show why they, alongside other Canadians like Hawk Nelson, Thousand Foot Krutch, Matt Maher and newworldson, are some of the most successful and popular Canadian artists within the American CCM market!
Jason Gray and Andrew Peterson are some of my favourite artists on Centricity, and both have released great music lately, with Jason delivering his powerful Christmas album Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy, and Andrew delivering a top-notch powerful album Light for the Lost Boy, both in 2012. Placing his melody ‘Joy To the World’ on this compilation as well as his Christmas album, Jason conveys the heartfelt message of joy and hope, in the midst of the electronic keyboards and the rhythmic drums that underpin this track. ‘Joy to the World’ adds a chorus, where Jason reconciles us back to joy, and shows us that has we let joy into our hearts, we are able to feel that ‘…the hope of every heart comes alive in Emmanuel…’ A flawless addition to an initially great song, Jason’s musical and lyrical ability to create poetic imagery and additional revelations, even from centuries old melodies, is certainly evident, not just in this Christmas carol, but in every song he writes and sings. Andrew Peterson also invites us to envisage the joyous moment in his reflective ‘Long, Long Ago’. Acoustically driven, Andrew’s ethereal and distinct voice carries the song as we are able to rest in the fact that while Jesus came to the Earth long before, the effects of eternal salvation are still applicable in this date, time and society, making the Christmas story of Jesus one of the most important in human history. As Andrew invites us to partake in the joyous moment of clarity, realisation and encouragement, this is a great addition on an album that showcases the best of these Centricity Music artists, and hopefully encourages listeners to listen to more of their music in the near future.
Throughout the rest of the album, we are able to have a glimpse into the music of newer artists, both new to the label, as well as new to Christian music as well. Jonny Diaz, recently signed to Centricity Music after departing from INO (Fair Trade), unveils to us his first song on Centricity, ‘Asleep in the Hay’ (despite releasing a 5 song EP independently in October). A song about how ‘…the richest of all gave everything up as a star led the way to His home…’, ‘Asleep in the Hay’ is a great juxtapositioning, between what man believes a King ought to be, compared to what Jesus came as and showed humanity what a King truly is. New band Carrolton provide their own rock anthem version of ‘What Child is This’, and while their passion is truly evident in their singing, the electric guitars and rock anthem music seemingly feels a little out of place when it comes to a reflective melody. While I don’t discount the enthusiasm and uniqueness to the song in terms of its music, Carrolton’s version of a Christmas carol classic is sadly not high on the list of ‘What Child of This’ renditions, with songs covered by Third Day, Building 429 and Kerrie Roberts being some standout cover versions of a melody that’s often used as a jingle for many ice cream trucks around the world. Another makeover is also presented in newer artist Unspoken’s version of the Spanish-English ‘Feliz Navidad’, with the band writing new verses about friends, family, thankfulness, and enjoying the holiday season. And while this verse is unique and different (and will certainly draw in more listeners who expect the Spanish verses, which sadly aren’t sung until the 2 minute mark), there seems to be a clash between the verses and choruses, and the flow seems disjointed, even if it wasn’t their intention.
The bright spot on the album comes from Lauren Daigle, new artist to the roster, with her two songs, the originally written and recorded ‘Light of the World’, and Christmas carol cover ‘The First Noel’. From Lafayette, Louisiana; Lauren’s experience as an American Idol finalist ought to be enough to warrant at least a listen to both her Christmas melodies and her first studio album releasing in 2014. Vocally sounding like both Francesca Battistelli and Dara Maclean, Lauren’s powerful vocals highlight ‘Light of the World’, an anthemic melody that uses powerful synths and electric guitars as we are given a great invitation to deliver ‘…glory to the light of the world…’ One of my favourite original Christmas songs ever, this is a great melody to check out if you are a fan of powerhouse vocal artists like Francesca Battistelli, Natalie Grant or Dara Maclean. As we hear the heart behind the song, and how ‘…I want all of the focus of this song to be on the Lord. All of the attention and all of the glory goes to Jesus, and not to any of the commercialism that exists in the American Christmas…’, Lauren’s heart for worship continues to be present in ‘The First Noel’, a song that has been sung in many shopping centres and covered by many artists since its inception in the 1870s. Staying true to the original familiar melody, Lauren Daigle’s presence on Christmas: Joy to the World is a great addition, both to the album and the artist roster on Centricity. Lauren is certainly a new artist to watch in 2014. Well done to both Centricity and Lauren, with the rendition of ‘The First Noel’ and the powerful and prolific ‘Light of the World’!
Overall: Christmas albums tend to fade into oblivion as the years go by, and only a few seem to remain strong years later (Christmas Offerings by Third Day, Home for Christmas by BarlowGirl, Believe by Natalie Grant, and Christmas by Rebecca St. James to name a few). While this new compilation Christmas album may not receive Christmas classic status, this album does warrant a stream on Spotify or download from iTunes, if only for Lauren Daigle’s material alone. With these songs further highlighting what a wonderful label Centricity Music is, Jason, Lauren, Jonny and Andrew, and the rest of the artists at the label have done a great job with the 8 song collection. Can’t wait for new material from Centricity Music artists in 2014!
RIYL: Dara Maclean, Bebo Norman, Natalie Grant, Matt Maher, Kerrie Roberts
Buy the Album: iTunes/Amazon mp3