Thursday, November 04, 2010

Justine's Christmas Music Showcase: Week One

November is here!  Hurrah!  I try every year to wait until October is in the can to pull out my Christmas music.  I do not always succeed.  For instance, last Saturday, Sadie caught me in my guilty secret while we were driving to do some shopping.  The Clumsy Lovers disc in the car CD player switched, and all of a sudden, Amy Grant started singing "Tennessee Christmas."  "Oh, Mom," Sadie reprimanded, "You've already broken out the Christmas music?"  "Don't judge me," I rebuked, and turned the volume up.

And why ought I to be ashamed, anyway?  Christmas music is GREAT!

So, to indulge myself (and possibly scare off any of the few remaining visitors to Trivialities -- lol!), I have decided to showcase a favorite Christmas album a week from now until Christmas.  So, without further ado, here is a gem that was released last year:

Album: Christmastide
Artist:   Bob Bennett
Label:   Independent, 2009

OK, I guess that everybody but me knew about the incomparable artistry of Bob Bennett years ago.  I plead both youth and heathenism for my ignorance of his 1980's awesomeness.  This, of course, means that nobody will be surprised to learn that his Christmas album released last year is a masterpiece from start to finish.  But, I'm going to tell you about it, anyway.

So, I didn't get the chance to review this on my blog last year, because I ordered it from Feed the Lake.  Feed the Lake is the premium source for the best in Christian artistry, but it is out of Canada.  That means that even to pseudo-Canada (i.e., Washington), orders take their time crossing the border.  These border crossings take a while, I surmise, because there is a Tim Horton's always on the Canadian side of any U.S./Canadian portal, and the temptation to stop for a Maple-Glazed and a cup of coffee whenever you approach is too great to overcome.  I am convinced that Bob Bennett's CD was munching pastries and slurping joe for a good week before making it into the States.  Always worth it to support Feed the Lake; and any amount of time is worth waiting for this glorious album.   

What to mention first -- the original songs, the arrangements, or the voice?  The Voice.  Truly Mr. Bennett has one of the most pleasant singing voices in the realm of popular music.  I love how it can be warm and deep and mellow -- and then lilt effortlessly upward to hit the higher notes.  The way he phrases a lyric is exceptional, too.  In a song like "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree," for instance, he has a way of taking the repeating lyric and infusing it with a slightly different interpretation with each recitation: here it is full of pathos; there it is full of barely-suppressed joy.  Fascinating.

It is so hard to find new Christmas music that is actually worth listening to.  Of course, that is because most new Christmas songs are not written by Bob Bennett.  Christmastide opens with an original offering: "God With Us."  A beautiful expression of Emmanuel is found in these words:

Make wide the way and straight the path/God with Us
He comes in mercy, not in wrath/God with Us
Behold an ancient mystery
God stepping into history
Hail the incarnate deity
God with Us
. . .
God with Us
Because we fell
Yeshua Hamashiach
God with Us
It was always meant to be
God with Us
With you, with me

If that doesn't make you feel warm and Christmasy all over, then you must be a Scrooge.  If so, the song "Christmas for Cynics" might be right up your alley.  Even more rare than good new Christmas music is hilarious new Christmas music.   For a season fraught with all sorts of set-ups for humor, the music tends to take only the sentimental or sacramental routes.  Even if you're a Christmas nut like me, you'll laugh along with "Christmas for Cynics" -- I promise.

I think my favorite of the original songs is "It May Not Have Been December."  Here, at last, is an answer to all those know-it-alls who try to rob the magic of Christmas by their insistence that Jesus was probably born in the spring, that the star of Bethlehem was probably a planet, that this whole holiday is a trumped-up paean to pagan winter solstice festivities.  Pooh to you!  Bob Bennett peels back the layers of protest and explanations to show just why we celebrate the Birth and how little it really has to do with the auxiliary things.  It is simply lovely.

It is always a treat to experience a musically delicious offering of little-known Christmas songs on an album.  Mr. Bennett has pulled out some beauties.  The aforementioned "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" is ethereal and haunting in its simplicity.  And "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day" delivers readily on all the joy promised by its title. 

There are some more traditional songs presented simply as instrumentals, and they serve as a nice bridge between the other songs.  "Come Thou Not Expected Bossa" is a particularly unique and festive one.

I am trying to model my effusions after my friend, Flicka, who writes better reviews than I because she is able to resist the temptation to write about every single song.  I could write lovingly about each of these tracks on Christmastide, but I think I shall be mysteriously reticent about the rest of the offerings.  I can assure you, though, that should you purchase this album for your holiday collection, you will not be disappointed.  Merry Christmas! 


Vermonster said...

As one who frequents Adorable Trivialities, I am excited to see the forthcoming Christmas Music Showcase! What a beautiful selection with which to begin.

Funny though, mine arrived in ample time for Christmas. Perhaps it's because there's no Tim's near my particular border crossing.

Looking forward to what the disc changer will showcase next week!

Arielle said...

Off topic: I like the new blog look. The colors are very restful.