North Point Music
Release Date: October 29th 2013
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
Along with the Passion 268 movement founded by Louie Giglio; North Point Ministries, a successful church and record label, which is led/founded by pastor Andy Stanley, targets their conferences and teachings at students and young people, as worship leaders bring people into the presence of God, and influencing people throughout their annual conference in Atlanta Georgia. With countless live albums (Here + Now, No One Higher, North Point Christmas, Awake, Louder Than Creation and NorthPoint Live) as well as solo albums by individual artists signed on the label, such as Eddie Kirkland, Todd Fields, Casey Darnell and Seth Condrey, all releasing in the past few years; now it’s time for the 2nd Christmas themed record Let There Be Light, dropping this past week. Containing the same trademark and distinct North Point sound, 11 different singers on the 11 tracks, as well as well-known Christmas carols, coupled with well written and performed original Christmas songs, such as “Unto Us”, “Dawn Is Breaking”, “All Is Well” and “Hallelujah”; it is clear this this great big heart for students is a plus, as North Point have woven together new and familiar songs of rich lyrics, and total God moments, as I am touched and captivated by one of the best Christmas albums this year (although Christmas Worship by Paul Baloche is at the top of the list!).
Already wowing us with their first Christmas album released in 2010, NorthPoint have now unveiled 11 songs, with each of them sung by a different artist- it’s a great way to introduce us to new and up and coming talent, and even though at first it could seem a bit much, all of these artists shine with what they’ve been given. Arguably the most well-known traditional Christmas carols, “O Holy Night” is the first carol on the track list to be recorded; and Seth Condrey, whose singing reminds me of Aaron Morgan of Seabird, delivers a fantastic rendition of the respected and catchy worship anthem. Musically, this song is very different from the many piano versions we’ve heard in the past from artists such as Kari Jobe, Jason Gray, and Chris Tomlin; in fact the with the undertone of the acoustic guitar and light percussion, it’s clear that an acoustic and folk genre was intended. Yet while many people may groan and say ‘Why this song? Why “O Holy Night” which has been covered a gazillion times?”; for me, Seth’s vocals fit perfectly with this modern NorthPoint take on this song, and this. There’s something just magical listening to the haunting and chilling lyrics in the chorus sung with fervour and passion; as Seth cries out ‘…fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices, o night divine, o night when Christ was born…’, I can definitely sense the Holy Spirit’s presence- these lyrics depict a truth that never gets old!
Again sung in an acoustic setting, complete with strings and a compelling, captivating piano orchestral crescendo, the underrated “What Child Is This”, one of my favourite carols, (which the mainstream tune of “Greensleeves” is based upon), is another covered gem on this album. Todd Fields, with his distinct voice sounding a cross between Jody McBrayer, Kevin Max and Bryan Oleson; shines vocally as he proclaims ‘…Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!…’. While many artists have included banging gongs and a loud sound on their versions, the subdued and contemplative nature of this recording makes me think about, reflect upon, and ponder the lyrics more, which is a good thing here. This lullaby like track again a highlight for me, especially in the new chorus and verse that Todd wrote- ‘…now let our praises ring this night, all heaven and earth together, the Light of Love is born to us, exalt His name forever…’.
“Emmanuel Come (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)”, sung by Clarissa Gibson (who sounds eerily like Lindsay McCaul and Audrey Assad), is yet another song that is been massively altered (the verses are kept intact, and a new chorus has been written and recorded). Yet in my opinion, the new-and-improved version greatly enhances the track list, especially with the clever use of the drums, keys and guitars, and the ever present rock flavour that is present all throughout. The lyrics of the chorus where Clarissa proclaims ‘…rejoice, rejoice, we lift up longing hearts and sing, rejoice, rejoice, let every tongue and nation bring…almighty God and saviour King…for great triumph and hope You bring…’ also stick out to me, and I find myself worshipping along with Clarissa as the song progresses.
Another song I worship too is the Casey Darnell led “I Heard The Bells”, with an added chorus which is just magical! I first became familiar with that song on Casting Crowns’ Peace On Earth in 2008 (yes, I indeed heard the Steven Curtis Chapman version, recorded in 2005, about 5 or so years after), and immediately I thought it was an original song written by Mark Hall. Yet this lesser-known track, which was not an original song by anyone, but written in the 19th century (1863 to be exact), while one of the more obscure Christmas carols, is still profound and impacting. As Casey brilliantly conveys the message of the bells symbolising the eternal hope that God has given us for all of mankind, the fact that this mid-tempo anthem contains bell like electric guitar riffs and light piano arrangements only heightens my enjoyment of the song.
There are three other Christmas carols that North Point unveil for us. The piano focused serene and calm “Silent Night”, sung by Chris Cauley, whose tranquil and exquisite voice is something to behold, describes the night that Jesus was born, and vividly, with imagery, outlines how the shepherds must have been feeling when the angels came down from heaven and shouted praise. Though played acoustically, the track draws out Chris’s powerful vocals as I sing with him ‘…glorious streams from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing alleluia, Christ the Saviour is born…’, and that definitely is a good thing! While of sombre and reflective nature, and a slow tempo; “Silent Night” is a track that is cherished by many, regardless of religion. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, probably one of the most famous ‘mainstream’ Christmas carols, is led by Amber Humphries, and reminds me of BarlowGirl’s similar version, in that they both have the keys and synth leading the track. Amber’s vocals are reminiscent of Alyssa Barlow’s as well, and both versions of the enjoyable song, which reminds us that Christmas is a joyous occasion, meant to be celebrated with friends and family; have vocals that I can’t praise often enough. The album wraps up with “The Christmas Song”, sung by Adam Kersh. Standing at around four and a half minutes; and with just the piano for company, I found this rendition a bit weird, despite Adam’s vocals being very enjoyable to listen to. After hearing Francesca Battistelli’s upbeat two and a half minute version, sure every other rendition I listen to will be pretty hard to compare. That’s not to say Adam doesn’t do a good job, in fact he does an excellent job, however Francesca version seems to have me singing along and enjoying the song a whole lot more! Nevertheless, seeing that there are a many more carols to choose from, I wonder why a song was chosen that only delves into turkey, mistletoe and Santa. However these carols are enjoyable on the whole. And it does make way for the original songs which are quite good.
The anthemic epic orchestral movement type piece “Dawn Is Breaking”, led by Ryan Stuart, speaks about how Christmas means that Jesus’ promise of saving us has been put into motion, and for that reason we can celebrate His birth, as the plan the prophets have reminded us in the Old Testament is being fulfilled. The earnest and heartfelt chorus where Ryan emphatically proclaims ‘…lift your eyes, lift your eyes the dawn is breaking, come alive, come alive let your hearts awaken, the moment we are waiting for, the king of love and mercy born…’, a sense of gratitude is washed over me as I thank Jesus in this song also. The radio friendly track “Unto Us”, sung passionately and fervently by Paul Taylor Thomas, full of driving electric guitars and accessible lyrics, once again reminds us of the importance and the enormity of Jesus’ birth, and puts everything He did on this earth with the purpose of saving us in His mind, in context. Chinua Hawk offers up his poignant and emotional Michael W Smith’s original song “All Is Well”, an acoustic guitar driven melody, assuring us that because of Jesus’ birth, all is well and He has won the war. In fact, I like this version better, as Michael’s version in 1989 didn’t feature him singing at all, and the organ and choir felt a bit out of place. Yet Chinua’s vocals are exquisite, and is one of the brightest spots on this album.
But the real highlight here is the opening track, “Hallelujah”. It’s a bit disturbing and perplexing at first, as Eddie sings refrains of “O Holy Night” (altered a bit) as the first verse, along with plenty of booming and grand instruments, sometimes seeming to drown out the meaning of the ‘original’ song with some elements borrowed. Yet Eddie’s passion and eagerness is undeniable, and this unique arrangement to what could easily have be called “O Holy Night 2.0”, shows Eddie at his best, merging well known carol lines and themes with original material, thus ending up with a super Christmas carol medley (only in theme, not in sound); that is truly remarkable when all is said and done. With the chorus easy to sing, and that means easy and appropriate to sing at all times of the year; North Point have shown us eleven songs that they should be proud of, and songs which no doubt will stand the test of time.
I had my doubts when I heard of many different artists making a Christmas album, but North Point have recorded an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed! They have also reminded us that even though the songs are from different artists, it’s the same God that these eleven men and women of God are worshipping that makes the album most remarkable, and enjoyable- the album actually blends together very well despite what people may believe; this October release is filled with God-inspired moments, with many worship leaders that will be guaranteed a spot in the CCM industry in the many years to come.. Releasing last week on the same day as albums from Superchick, Vertical Church Band, Warr Acres, Paul Baloche, and the Robertsons from the TV show Duck Dynasty; this band of church worshippers will probably not be recognised straight away, but while this is definitely one of the underrated albums release on that day, and in this month; hopefully North Point Music receives the recognition that the church and its ministry deserve! Well done guys for an enjoyable album; and God bless your ministry in the future.
- Hallelujah (Eddie Kirkland)
- Dawn Is Breaking (Ryan Stuart)
- O Holy Night (Seth Condrey)
- What Child Is This? (Todd Fields)
- Unto Us (Paul Taylor Smith)
- Emmanuel Come (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) (Clarissa Gibson)
- I Heard The Bells (Casey Darnell)
- All Is Well (Chinua Hawk)
- Silent Night (Chris Cauley)
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Amber Humphries)
- The Christmas Song (Adam Kersh)