Release Date: October 9th 2012
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Mandisa- It’s Christmas (Christmas Angel Edition) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
Mandisa has come a long way from American Idol in 2006. Voted off the show at number 9; Mandisa has carved a strong and well publicised CCM career with Sparrow Records, with 3 studio albums (True Beauty, Freedom, What If We Were Real?) recorded already, her most successful being her latest album in 2011. Known for her hit singles “Only The World”, “He Is With You”, “My Deliverer”, “Stronger”, “Waiting For Tomorrow”, and the most recent “Good Morning”, which features TobyMac; now comes the end of 2012, in which Mandisa caps off a whirlwind and busy year. Releasing a remix EP in August, as well as many morning breakfast TV show appearances, touring with Britt Nicole and Laura Story, and soon to be touring with TobyMac on the ‘Hits Deep Tour’; Mandisa now re-releases her 2008 It’s Christmas album, with 3 extra songs, 2 omissions, and a rearranged order, as It’s Christmas: Christmas Angel Edition drops on the same day as new Christmas albums from Lincoln Brewster, Jason Gray, Josh Wilson and Hillsong.
A quick glance through the track list; and most of the songs are the same from the 2008 recording. While I myself haven’t listened to It’s Christmas until listening to this 2012 edition, what I am reminded and shown, through Mandisa’s powerfully and beautifully sung vocals is that Christmas is a time to celebrate Jesus and his birth, and what better way to do that than through song? Reminding us about Jesus and the reason for Christmas, while Mandisa joyously sings traditional carols as well as new original tracks; It’s Christmas: Christmas Angel Edition seamlessly blends in half traditional carols and half original tracks. “Feliz Navidad” is a happy bubbly tune, with renditions from Jaci Velasquez and David Crowder*Band recorded in previous years. While not a Christ centred carol, this track gets into the holiday spirit right away, and effortlessly blends into “Joy To The World”, and back to this danceable fun song that is ‘…[wishing] you a mercy Christmas form the bottom of my heart…’. What a buoyant melody, one that brings me a smile, as I think about the Christmas season. The “Christmas Bell Medley” is a unique, jazz themed medley of “Silver Bells”, “Carol Of The Bells”, and “Carolling, Carolling”, sounding like something from the 50’s and 60’s. It’s a nice addition of lesser known carols in this collection, with Mandisa’s honest and great voice captivating me all throughout this 5 minute track that is sure to be a favourite of mine for years to come. I especially love the version of “Carol of the Bells”, an underrated carol in my opinion! “Angels We Have Heard On High” is an acoustic piano driven highlight, with hand claps and clicks to create a refreshing feel; a welcome song as I sing out with Mandisa ‘..in excelsis deo…’. “Little Drummer Boy”, a not so known carol, yet all-encompassing of the gospel message, also makes an appearance, complete with a gospel choir and memorable crescendo; as I marvel at Mandisa’s ability to turn carols into her own version- this captivating R&B infused carol is just as good as Jars of Clay’s rendition!
Mandisa also covers “Mary’s Boy Child” as well, and this laid back acoustic song, sung about Mary, is another track basically explaining the gospel ‘…man will live forevermore, because of Christmas Day…’, a nice addition, and a great musical experience as I am met with a smorgasbord of exotic instruments in this Hawaiian/Caribbean-like meets gospel treat. Lesser known covers “What Christmas Means To Me”, originally recorded by Stevie Wonder, and “Children Go Where I Send Thee”, originally sung in gospel African-American choirs; are present in this 12 song selection as well, and their additions are cherished, as I find myself loving new favourite Christmas melodies, especially when Mandisa’s sublime and near-flawless voice accompanies God given lyrics such as ‘…he was born, born, born in Bethlehem, children go where I send thee…’. Reminding me of the Great Commission; this track that I originally mistook as a song written by Mandisa is one of my favourite songs recorded by Mandisa; and “What Christmas Means To Me”, while not singing about Jesus, is a track that gets me into the Christmas spirit, and thus has done its job!
Original tracks recorded in 2008 “Christmas Makes Me Cry” and “Christmas Day” are featured on this tracklist as well, with Mandisa singing a duet with Matthew West and Michael W Smith respectively. While “Christmas Makes Me Cry” is a sombre and reflective melody, singing about how Christmas is different emotions for different people, but how Christmas should give us ‘…tears of joy at Christmas because I know there is peace on earth for every heart to find, and sometimes Christmas makes me cry…’; the musical layers and orchestral feel give this anthemic ballad the timeless factor- I could imagine this being covered many times, and considered a traditional Christmas carol in about 50 years’ time! Michael W Smith’s “Christmas Day” is also a nice treat, with vivid and clear descriptions of Christmas traditions and what it looks like for Americans, and people around the world. Featuring a children’s choir, this innocent epic original track by Michael W Smith (which could be re-recorded as an instrumental, and it would still be awesome!), has blown me away, and could easily be an anthem for a Christmas movie in time!
Lastly, are the never-before-heard new 2012 tunes especially recorded for October 9th! “It’s Christmas” starts off this Christmas Angel Edition album, and kicks into gear as Mandisa sings in this piano and electric upbeat toe tapper reasons why the holiday festive season is so appealing to everyone- as we open presents, eat good food, and catch up with relatives, and have fun. But just as you think this is similar thematically to something like “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”, or “Jingle Bell Rock”; Mandisa cleverly inserts into this song ‘…let’s not forget in the middle of the busyness, remember this, Jesus is the reason for this time of the year, we’re gonna celebrate, it’s Christmas, let me hear that joyful noise in the air, wanna hear it everywhere, heaven and earth proclaim…’; which makes me smile and nod my head- this short but sweet 3 minute tune has a catchy beat, and reminds me thematically of Jamie Grace’s “Christmas Together”! “What Child Is This”, set to the tune of “Greensleeves”, is another gem that is new on this album, as Mandisa shines as she proclaims ‘…Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!…’, this lullaby like track again a highlight for me, as Mandisa shows off her extensive vocal range, turning this well-known carol into her own version, complete with a crescendo and a piano centred orchestral sound!
But it is the original made-for-TV song “Somebody’s Angel” that captivates me the most. Going to be featured on the movie Christmas Angel, debuting on GMC this December, this ballad seems to be this year’s version of “The Heart Of Christmas”, which also made it to a movie. An uplifting and motivational track about being the hands and feet of Jesus to people in need ‘…we could be that shining light, to show the heart of Christmastime, people need love, then we all are able, so take some time and start today to give some joy and hope away, cause you might be, you might be somebody’s angel…’; I am confronted with the notion of putting others first and not thinking of self. So what I’m going to do is take this song, and use it as a challenge for me, to show that love of Christ to others this Christmas, and not be consumed by the food, presents, and other things. Every Christmas, there seems to be people in need, and Mandisa’s challenge is for us to act, as outlined in James 2: 14-26.
While not an entirely new batch of songs, it’s nice to hear Mandisa create her own Christmas collection of classics, and new classics! Even though I was disappointed that “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night” did not make the cut, the cohesion of the songs and the order, as well as the thought provoking “Somebody’s Angel” makes this expanded edition of It’s Christmas well worth it! If you haven’t bought It’s Christmas, yet, buy the 2012 version! If you have, buy the extra 3 tracks on iTunes. Well done, Mandisa, you are one of the vocalists I am rooting for in the Dove Awards next year!
- Its Christmas*
- What Christmas Means To Me
- Somebody’s Angel*
- Christmas Bell Medley (Silver Bells/Carol Of The Bells/Carolling, Carolling)
- Feliz Navidad (With Joy to the World)
- Angels We Have Heard on High
- Christmas Makes Me Cry (feat. Matthew West)
- Little Drummer Boy
- Christmas Day (feat. Michael W. Smith)
- What Child Is This*
- Mary’s Little Boy Child
- Children Go Where I Send Thee
* = new song (not on 2008 ‘Christmas’ album)
Favourite Tracks: It’s Christmas, Somebody’s Angel, Christmas Makes Me Cry (feat. Matthew West), Christmas Day (feat. Michael W. Smith), What Child Is This, Children Go Where I Send Thee