Release Date: October 16th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Various Artists- A Very Special Christmas: Bringing Peace On Earth (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
I could write an entire page about the inspiration behind this album A Very Special Christmas: Bringing Peace On Earth, but I’ll just direct you all to the press release. Basically, this series of albums has been in the works since 1987, with the proceeds benefiting the Special Olympics, and 2 albums have been released this year. I haven’t listened to the 25th Anniversary Edition CD, however the 2nd album Bringing Peace On Earth is a gem, with plenty of traditional Christmas carols for young and old, as well as songs recorded specifically recorded. Containing current Word Label Group artists, as well as some artists not currently on the label anymore; this compilation and collection of new and old anthems for the holiday season is well worth it to buy- particularly for a few standout tracks from for KING & COUNTRY, Group 1 Crew, Meredith Andrews, and NEEDTOBREATHE.
I’m not sure what the criteria was for selection for this 16 track album, as some songs are a little bit dated. I would have thought everything would be re-recorded specifically for this album exclusively, like some of them. Nevertheless, the older tracks are powerful and poignant as well. Chris August’s 2011 single “Jesus Saviour”, a groovy piano pop tune, is an original song about the Christmas story through the eyes of Mary and Joseph, and how the angel told them to ‘…call Him Jesus, Saviour, Son of God, the Kings of Kings, our salvation has a name…precious Lord of everything, our whole world’s about the change…’. Telling a story about conflicting emotions of the two protagonists in the Christmas narrative; Chris’s storytelling, honest vocals, and addition of gospel like synth, gives the melody and distinctive telling of Mary and Joseph, a unique touch. “O Come All Ye Faithful”, recorded by Big Daddy Weave on their 2009 album Christ Has Come, is also a great addition, as Mike Weaver proclaims ‘…yea Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning, Jesus to thee be all glory giv’n…’, and the bells and chimes in the background against the electric guitar is welcome as well. Building 429, now on Essential Records, are present also, with “We Three Kings”, recorded in 2005. This version, however, is changed others vastly, yet it is given a fresh and rockier vibe, with Jason Roy’s vocals very passionate and intense and enthusiastic as I sing about the ‘…star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright…’. It’s great that “We Three Kings” made the track-list, as it isn’t one of the most well-known carols, yet is one of my favourites. BarlowGirl’s “For The Beauty of the Earth” is very hymn-like, creating an ethereal and confronting atmosphere. With all three sisters Alyssa, Rebecca, and Lauren harmonising to perfection in the verses and the chorus, with an anthemic crescendo and an epic orchestral like chorus, this song is one of my highlights, especially in the chorus ‘…Lord of all to thee we raise; this our hymn of grateful praise…’, where I am left in the presence of Jesus, giving glory and honour to He who was born on Christmas!
Mark Schultz just signed to Fair Trade Services, but before he left Word Label Group, he recorded “When Love Was Born”, a reflective piano ballad with strings, vividly describing how everyone felt that night when Jesus was born. Sung perfectly in the chorus of how we are to address our heavenly Saviour ‘…Hallelujah, He is Christ, our King…’; this anthem is segued into Point Of Grace’s “Labour of Love”, an acoustic guitar country song written by Andrew Peterson, where Denise, Leigh and Shelley also sing about Jesus, and how Mary felt when giving birth to Jesus, and how it was a labour of love. Similar in theme to Francesca Battistelli’s “You’re Here”, this song with imagery and metaphors is very pleasing for me to listen to. Jamie Grace, New Artist of the Year this year, brings “Christmas Together” to the table as well on this varied track list, with Jamie singing about how Christmas is a time where we are all meant to be together and spending time with family and friends, and ‘…wouldn’t it be so great if it was always Christmas time?…’. This upbeat R&B/pop track is very nice to dance to, and I can’t help but catch onto Jamie’s infectious bubbly personality, as I sing along on this toe tapper, that reminds us that living in this holiday season is a joyful and celebratory time, as Jesus is here with us!
Natalie Grant has always been one of my favourite female vocalists, and the piano ballad “I Believe” highlights and confirms this fact. Though recorded on Natalie’s 2005 Christmas album, I could listen to this song all day and never be bored, that’s how strong the vocals and piano is. One of my favourite original Christmas songs ever, Natalie stands firm and gives a testimony of her beliefs, and I hear myself saying ‘amen’ over again and again as Natalie declares this pretty awesome chorus: ‘…I believe the wise-men saw, the baby boy the angels called the son of God; heaven’s child, The great I Am, born to take away my sins through nailed pierced hands, Emmanuel has come, I believe…’, with that I would agree 100% with. Well done Natalie for a highlight in this already near-flawless record. Bring on Natalie’s new album in 2013! Another female vocalist which is a favourite of mine is Meredith Andrews, who offers up “He Has Come For Us (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)”, recorded in 2009, an interesting and refreshing take on the original carol, with a worship slant and extra chorus added, as Meredith sings ‘…He has come for us, the Messiah, born to give us life…’. With Worth It All to release in January 2013, I am glad to hear a song of Meredith’s to get myself in the mood, even if it is an older track; as I would definitely advocate on her receiving a Dove nomination- especially in this Christmas song I was totally mesmerised and captivated by the music, lyrics, as well as the strong vocals giving the song a anthemic quality. I just hope that if Meredith records a Christmas album, this song is re-recorded! The last song which is recorded before this year is NEEDTOBREATHE’s “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. This is another favourite of mine, as Bear, Bo, Seth and Joe create some quality southern rock goodness, and proclaim an eternal truth as well, that ‘…Jesus Christ is born…’. The added bridge, turned gospel performance/spontaneous worship of ‘…hallelujah, hallelujah, Jesus Christ is born, hallelujah, hallelujah, Saviour of the world…’ is also an awesome part of the song, bringing me chills down my spine as these rockers sing for Jesus. NEEDTOBREATHE have made some fans in the mainstream radio, but it is songs like this that overtly praise Jesus, that make me want to become a fan of them too!
6 more tracks are on the album, and they are all recorded this year, all of them specifically for this record, except for Francesca Battistelli, who sings “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, one of the best songs on the album, also on her Christmas album releasing on the same day, which is a piano only ballad, where Francesca creates a masterpiece, and we are shown an eerie yet captivating performance, and a declaration to our God and King; a prophetic song about Jesus’s life on Earth. This is another brilliant song showcasing Francesca’s striking vocals. Sidewalk Prophets, who recently released their new album Live Like That make an appearance with “Because It’s Christmas”, with Dave Frey speaking about the calamities and chaos of Christmas, similar to Francesca Battistelli’s “Christmas Is”, then later on the song he gives us something to keep our hearts at ease that ‘…so let the music play, let your worry melt away, because it’s Christmas…’. While on the surface, for the first minute and a half the song reads like a “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” type of song; Dave reminds us the true reason for the season in the last chorus, that ‘…our Saviour’s born tonight…and let the music play, cause Jesus Christ was born today…’. What a fantastic declaration, as without the birth of Christ, Jesus wouldn’t have died, and rose again, so for that we should be very thankful. Jason Castro drops in and creates a medley of sorts with “Gloria (Hark The Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard On High)”, which in my opinion is the only disappointment in the album, as these two songs, while great in their own right, do not really mesh together, and thus this song only is ok, and not brilliant like the others. While Jason’s vocals are top notch, I can’t help but feel like this song is out of place and that Jason is putting too much effects and instruments, and singing ‘Gloria’, to an impact that is a bit detrimental. Despite this hiccup, the best three songs on the album are from Group 1 Crew, Dara Maclean and for KING & COUNTRY.
I was sceptical at Blanca and Manwell of Group 1 Crew recording “O Holy Night” in 3 and a half minutes, as I was sure that they would cut out a verse or botch the whole thing up, as previous versions of the epic and anthemic slower tempo song were around the 5 minute mark. I should have guessed that these rappers would alter with the melody and quicken the pace though, and that’s exactly what happened. Though this took a while for me to get used to, I like this new and revamped version; and this track is very upbeat, making me want to dance for joy and sing ‘…O night when Christ was born, O Holy night…’! Manwell even adds in a rap in the bridge to ‘contemporise’ the carol! Dara Maclean, who recently released her expanded edition of You Got My Attention, teams up with Dave Barnes on vocals, and sings an acoustic guitar and keys driven song about the awe and wonder we all feel as we dwell upon the fact that Jesus was sent for each one of us. Very worshipful in nature, as Dara cries out ‘…holy, holy, silent night, peace has come to all mankind…’; what struck out to me was the phrase ‘…all of this with me in mind…’, reminding us that we were in God’s mind, when he came down from heaven as Jesus- a relationship with us was always in his plan. That should really boggle your mind- in a good way! But the icing on this already awesome ‘cake’ (how could this track list get any more awesome!), is the single “Baby Boy” from for KING & COUNTRY, the Aussie duo Joel and Luke, who are brothers of Rebecca St James. I’ve literally got no words for this very poignant and inspirational song, as the music, lyrics and split vocals of Joel and Luke is beyond description, and is 5 stars! Singing ‘…hallelujah, we can sing, hallelujah, heaven’s ringing, hallelujah, endless hope, relentless joy, started with a baby boy…’ in the chorus is probably the best lyrics and original Christmas song of the year, and singing about the magnitude of how God came to save us through a baby boy, in a way no one expected is very ingenious, as it shows us that God’s ways are higher than ours, and He cannot be put into a box!
What can I say to sum up that hasn’t been said already? This epic masterpiece of tracks that fit together deserves all of the accolades and praise. Although I would have liked to see Christmas songs from mikeschair, Plumb and Selah, I can’t really complain. Well done everyone involved! This album is well worth the cash you all part with. And besides, it’s for a good cause, so where can you go wrong by buying it? For fans of Christmas music of all genres!
- Because It’s Christmas- Sidewalk Prophets
- Gloria (Hark The Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard On High)- Jason Castro
- Baby Boy- for KING & COUNTRY
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel- Francesca Battistelli
- O Holy Night- Group 1 Crew
- Bethlehem Skies (feat. Dave Barnes)- Dara Maclean
- Jesus, Savior- Chris August
- Christmas Together- Jamie Grace
- Go Tell It On The Mountain- needtobreathe
- He Has Come For Us (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)- Meredith Andrews
- O Come All Ye Faithful- Big Daddy Weave
- I Believe- Natalie Grant
- For The Beauty Of The Earth- BarlowGirl
- We Three Kings- Building 429
- Labor Of Love- Point Of Grace
- When Love Was Born- Mark Schultz