Release Date: October 16th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
The rise of Grammy award winning and Artist of the Year Francesca Battistelli is very remarkable. With 2 albums and tons of hits recorded, inclusive of “ I’m Letting Go”, “This Is The Stuff”, “Motion Of Mercy”, “Beautiful, Beautiful”, and “Free To Be Me”, as well as plenty of TV shows featuring Francesca’s music; the mother of two now releases a Christmas album, with plenty of new melodies, as well as traditional carols. It’s an assumption that studio album #3 is released in 2013, and this holiday experience is a great way to get reacquainted with Francesca before then. As Francesca herself has said that Christmas is her favourite holiday “…I am beyond excited about this Christmas album…my producer, Ian Eskelin, did an incredible job bringing my vision for these songs to life, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear them! Christmas is my favorite time of year, and I hope that this album is one people want to listen to year after year…”; this album aptly titled Christmas shines tall along with the rest of the strong candidates for Christmas album of the year; and deserves a spot on the CD case. This album is on iTunes right now, so it wouldn’t hurt to buy it, right?
“Joy To The World” has appeared on every Christmas album this year, and all versions have been unique and awesome. Francesca continues with this trend, with an acoustic and light rendition a touch under 3 minutes. With hand claps, and an atmosphere of sitting around the fire with family and friends, we are reminded through Francesca’s beautiful vocals, that ‘…He rules the Earth with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love…’. Jesus’ birth is a very celebratory time, and this bubbly happy tune is one of my favourites. “Go Tell Is On the Mountain” is the fitting closer, and the piano prominent nature of the track, and lack of drums accentuates Francesca’s vocals and the lyrics quite nicely. Sounding like a spontaneous track in the chorus, where Francesca and the musicians have a blast, we are reminded of the fact that Jesus is born, and because that is good news, we ought to spread that news everywhere and ‘…go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born…’. With hand clicks and claps throughout this short but sweet musical number as well, I also can’t help but dance along and praise Jesus! “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, the 2009 single, is a upbeat jazz infused time warp to the 60’s and 70’s tunes as Francesca sings about the season and that it is the season where we reminisce about ‘…happy golden days of yore…’ and ‘…faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more…’. Putting a smile on my face, this melody full of vibrant energy is one of my favourite versions ever (as most of the others are slower, and seem to be drawn out!), and a fantastic inclusion.
Another carol that Francesca includes that is one of my favourites is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, one of the best songs on the album. A piano only ballad, except for a few strings in the chorus for effect; Francesca creates and crafts a musical and lyrical masterpiece, as we are shown an eerie yet captivating performance, and a declaration to our God and King that ‘…Emmanuel, shall come to thee O Israel…’, a prophetic song about Jesus’s life on Earth, and another brilliant song showcasing Francesca’s striking vocals. For that song alone, a Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year should surely be discussed for the nominations, in my opinion! “The First Noel” and “What Child Is This” is a medley on the track-list also, and Francesca perfects this unusual combination of songs 100%. Singing the first verse and chorus of “The First Noel”, and crying out ‘…born is the King of Israel…’; the piano segues into a quickened version of “What Child Is This”. Although the second verse is missing, this song with a serene and laid back mood, crescendos in the second chorus, and this track packs a punch, as Francesca reminds us of poignant lyrics that Jesus is ‘…the Babe, the son of Mary…’
I first thought “Marshmallow World” was an original song by Francesca, yet this is a song written in 1949, most famously recorded by Bing Crosby, and rerecorded over the years countless times. As I have not listened to the other versions, I cannot compare, however Francesca’s rendition sounds great, with big brass instruments, and a strong vocal, as Francesca sings about food (which makes me hungry!), and how Christmas is an overall fun time. The instrumental bridge with an electric solo is a great part of the track as well. While not a ‘Christian’ song, “Marshmallow World” does get me into the Christmas Spirit! The last traditional carol from Francesca is the upbeat “The Christmas Song”, another track written in the 40’s and covered by many artists, inclusive of Amy Grant and Newsboys (the only other version I’ve heard!). In this rendition though, Francesca includes a myriad of instruments and quickens the pace to just over 2 minutes, which is inclusive of a “Deck The Halls” 30 second interlude. That’s not to say that Newsboys’ 4 and a half minute piano piece is not good, but Francesca’s seems to have me singing along and enjoying the song a whole lot more! Singing about turkey, mistletoe and Santa is a far cry from about Jesus’ birth, but hopefully non-Christians can take a look at Francesca’s discography if they enjoy this song!
Francesca also includes 4 originals as well. “Heaven Everywhere” is about showing Jesus to everyone at any time, regardless of whether it is Christmas or not. Similar in theme to Josh Wilson’s “Once A Year”, Francesca’s eye opening song shows us how each one of us is more ‘human’ and kind around the holidays ‘…we’re just slightly more aware, there’s a little bit of heaven everywhere…’, yet some of us are like Scrooge the other 364 days. Yet Francesca describes the feeling that we receive at Christmas in the choruses, and for me, that’s what I want to act like all year round, showing the love of Christ to others in need ‘…it’s the grace that we show to a world that needs hope, it’s giving our lives knowing they’re not our own, it’s the joy that we feel and the love that we share…’. With big booming drums and an anthemic feel, this ballad includes a refrain of “Angels We Have Heard On High”; and the acoustic version on the iTunes bonus tracks is just as powerful as well, as Francesca trades the drums and synth for extra acoustic guitar riffs, creating an ethereal and refreshing holiday song.
Following on from “Heaven Everywhere” is the upbeat “Christmas Is”, complete with a brass band solo, which is tongue-in-cheek sometimes as Francesca describes the funny and humorous moments and activities associated with Christmastime ‘…Christmas is music and family in town, Christmas is Snoopy and Charlie Brown, it’s anticipating that snow’s gonna fall, and praying for someplace to park at the mall, it’s mum going crazy cause the turkey got burned, it’s saying thanks for some gift you’ll return…’. As I do not live in America, and live in Australia, Christmas for me is in the summertime, thus most of what is in this song I can’t identify with. Yet it does make me want to experience a White Christmas in America one day. Yet ultimately Francesca reminds us all that we can celebrate all of our unique family moments and traditions because Jesus was born to die for us ‘…Christmas is all of these fun things for sure, but Christmas is really oh so much more, it’s good news of hope for the whole world because Christmas is Jesus…’. What a fantastic thought to be wrapped up in. Well done Francesca for this eternal truth!
“You’re Here”, the piano and acoustic guitar ballad, is sung in the persona of Mary, as we are met with thoughts that could have been running through Mary just after the birth of Jesus. Singing about how in awe Mary was, knowing that her child was fully man and fully God, and come to save all of humanity; this must have been very surreal and overwhelming for her. Francesca has also sung from the perspective of Mary before, on “Be Born In Me”, on the 2011 album Music Inspired By The Story, and this song about Mary is just as unique and powerful, especially in the lyrics ‘…someday I’m gonna look back on this; the night that God became a baby boy, someday You’re gonna go home again, but You leave your spirit and flood the world with joy…’. God chose to enter into His story, and give us all a chance to have a relationship with Him, and that thought nearly chokes me up if I think about it too hard. Another emotional song is “Christmas Dreams”, where Francesca sings about the hours leading up to Christmas, and is an intimate portrayal of her family and how Francesca, her husband and kids celebrate the special day, capturing a songwriting style from Francesca that is top notch, as she packages nicely all of her warm and wonderful family moments in a 3 minute piano melody. Well done Francesca for the Christmas cheer and spirit that we all can have another dosage of. “December 25th”, a song that is on the iTunes bonus edition; ends proceedings, and is a song similar musically to something from the 50’s or 60’s, reminding me of “What A Wonderful World”. Lyrically it is another version of “Christmas Dreams”, as Francesca delves into more of her family traditions and customs around the holidays.
All in all, Francesca Battistelli has created a gem of an album in Christmas, and with a songwriting talent like Nichole Nordeman and Brooke Fraser, I have fallen in love with Francesca’s honest and poignant songs, as I celebrate Jesus in the holiday season. Plenty of Christmas albums have released this year, from Jason Gray, Steven Curtis Chapman, Josh Wilson, and Lincoln Brewster, and Francesca’s offering is just as good as each one of the aforementioned artists’. With a great blend of old favourites and new songs guaranteed to be hits; this album is sure ot have many repeat plays this November and December. With a new studio album to be released sometime in 2013, Francesca has brilliantly orchestrated an amazing Christmas album, with my highlights inclusive of “Heaven Everywhere”, “Christmas Is” and “You’re Here”! Well done Francesca, you certainly deserve plenty of accolades for this album, and many more in the future!
- The Christmas Song
- Heaven Everywhere
- Christmas Is
- What Child Is This? (First Noel Prelude)
- Marshmallow World
- O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
- You’re Here
- Joy To The World
- Christmas Dreams
- Go Tell It On The Mountain
- December 25th
- Heaven Everywhere (Acoustic Version)
Favourite Tracks: Heaven Everywhere, Christmas Is, What Child Is This? (First Noel Prelude), O Come, O Come Emmanuel, You’re Here, Go Tell It On The Mountain