I just love Christmas. Really, I do. Except for the few months following the holiday season, I could literally listen to Christmas music for hours. (In fact I annoy everyone in my office by starting to play Christmas music on July 3rd!) That being said, I have anticipated this album’s release since February when my friends from Nashville wrote about their experience in recording this live album with Chris. Most of their comments were so powerful and exciting that I knew something special was waiting in this release.
Christmas music is special and not everyone appreciates it when you mess with a melody line or arrangement for the sake of “something new and fresh”. It’s a fine line that an artist walks when he/she does a Christmas album because everyone wants to put their own mark on the holiday season. What I find refreshing about this album is that Chris has stayed true to the spirit of the songs that we have come to love and revere for the season. Even the most staunch traditionalist will find themselves singing along to the familiar lines of old carols while enjoying the new expressions of Christmas worship penned by Tomlin.
Also, in this album you’ll find a couple of new worship songs that I think will transcend the Christmas season (My Soul Magnifies the Lord, Glory in the Highest and Light of the World). These songs can be sung all year long because of their timeless message.
Here are some highlights from the album for me:
O Come All Ye Faithful – the traditional carol but done with such acoustic passion that any (I mean ANY) congregation would find young, old, contemporary or traditional joining together for this song.
Angels We Have Heard on High—a driving electric sound on this familiar carol will be the right tune for a contemporary worship service. Again, Tomlin has not sacrificed the sacred melody for “freshness”. Instead the instrumentation lends this old song a new suit for the season.
Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger)– one of my favorite songs of the album is Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger). It’s a fresh expression of praise about the savior and the manger. We’re going to use it through the Christmas season as a response song. The chorus is infectious as it rises to praise EMMAUNEL—God with us!
Hark the Herald—Simple is sometimes best. Tomlin lets the simplicity of this carol and the voices rise to bring a fresh air to this carol. The instrumentation is simple—any church could do this!
My Soul Magnifies the Lord—for me the best song of the album is My Soul Magnifies the Lord. It’s an exciting, upbeat song of worship and I can easily see my congregation singing this song all year long. In the spirit of FOREVER and other upbeat Tomlin songs, this one will be around for years! I think we’ve scheduled to do it every Sunday during the season!
Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)– Just like other Tomlin hymn /chorus combinations ( How can I Keep from Singing, Amazing Grace) the setting of an old song with a new chorus is the recipe for fresh worship. Congregations will automatically engage with the carol and then be easily led into the simple chorus of “joy, unspeakable joy!” I have a church member who says when they get to this part of the song she wants to shout!
Glory in the Highest– The title cut of the album is probably the most powerful and least understated song. The whole album is an expression of glory to the Lord. This song simply embodies the spirit of the album. The simple arrangement would be at home in any church service during the season. I love the line “YOU ARE THE FIRST, YOU ARE THE LAST, YOU GO BEFORE, YOU ARE THE ENCORE!”
O Holy Night– What Christmas album would be complete without a rendition of this favorite. Instead of over orchestrating the song (which is our tendency) Tomlin stays true to his simple approach to the song. When you hit the pinnacle of the song at “fall on your knees” it is not the arrangement driving the song, but the worship. This one is on the program for Christmas Eve for sure!
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus– This carol is familiar to those who practice Advent and is such a cry to the Lord to come into the darkness of our World. Christi Nockles leads this accapella rendition. I can’t wait to sing this during our Advent services this year.
Light of The World – This great song with Matt Redman and Tomlin. I can see this as the new “Candlelight” song of the Christmas season. However, don’t be fooled by the melody—the words here are rich and deep and need to be studied and explored.
Winter Snow—the surprise jewel of this album is Winter Snow (by Audrey Assad) this gentle ballad expresses much of the season’s feelings. It’s a gentle reminder that Christ had all the power to enter our world, yet he gently came in humble form. This one is a real winner. The arrangement is really simple and rich!
Born That We May Have Life—the final song on the album is an expression of praise and thanksgiving for the birth of Jesus. It would be an excellent ending song for any service and would remind us that during this Christmas season that Christ came that we may have life!
When I listen to Christmas music I wonder if any of it will translate to corporate worship. Some will and some won’t. When I heard this album the first time, I knew it was a winner. What you’ll find with this album is that almost every one of these songs and arrangements will be around for a long time in worship in the coming years. They are singable and accessible for today’s worshiper!
Jim is Pastor of Worship Arts at FBC Snyder, Texas. Serving 22 years in Music Ministry, Jim has served traditional ,blended and contemporary worship styles and combines those experiences along with creativity for worship. He loves to read, run, blog (http://jimdrake.blogspot.com) and connect with people (twitter:fbcjdrake) around the world about worship. You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org He’s married to Diane and they have three teenage children.