Thursday, November 11, 2010

Justine's Christmas Music Showcase: Week 2

OK, so here is another album that was brand new last year, but that I never got around to reviewing.  The group is Canadian; the CD came from Tukwila, though.

Album:  How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas
Artists:  Downhere
Label:  Centricity Music, 2009

It was the cover art that caught my eye.  I liked the cheerful red combined with the interesting crown motif.  Downhere, eh?  Never heard of them.  How Many Kings . . . hmmm.  So, I flipped it over in the store and read with approval the song list.  "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" — good.  "Angels from the Realms of Glory" — interesting.  "Good King Wenceslas" — ah, nice one.  "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" — ooh, I've always wanted to hear that one.  And a bunch of new ones.  Sounds promising, I thought.  I'll try to find out some more information.

So, I Googled them.  Found out they were Canadian.  Went to my best resource on all things musical and Canadian: Spencer Capier.  He said he'd heard of them, but did not know too much about their Christmas album.  So, I went to my next best resource on all things musical and Canadian:  Carolyn Arends.  She not only knew of them, she knew the history of the lead singer, and a bit about their style of music.  Guess who is now my best resource on all things musical and Canadian?  Anyway, she also didn't know much about their just-released Christmas album, but said to let her know if I decided to buy it and what I thought of it. 

I decided to buy it.

And I let her know what I thought about it.  I took the album out just the other day, to see if what I thought about it had changed over the past year, and — no; it pretty much reads the same to me this year as last.  So, this is what I told Carolyn in aught-nine (in better thought-out words than I originally used):

The new songs walk the line of banality and inspirational and fall over onto the banal side far too often.  The "covers" of traditional songs, however, are remarkable. 

Based upon that succinct review, Carolyn did not seem too impressed.  I felt bad, as though I had done Downhere a disfavor.  Because, I was in no way trying to say that How Many Kings was not a worthwhile album or addition to any Christmas collection.  This year, I am going to clarify and finesse and write out better what I really think, to redeem myself in my own view as a thoughtful listener.

How Many Kings is a pop-rock collection by the Christian band Downhere.  The eponymous track opens the album as a musically rich and vocally powerful original.  While the melody is pleasing to the ears, and the voices convey emotion and conviction, I cannot find the lyric all that absorbing.  Our church sang it during worship around Christmastime last year.  Why?  I have no idea. 

So, I'll share the not-so-great first:  The originals on this album just leave me pretty cold.  I like a pretty different kind of lyric, I guess, and stringing a bunch of nice-sounding, vaguely-rhyming sentiments together just won't cut it for me.  "How Many Kings" is probably the best of the original offerings.  "Christmas in Our Hearts" is probably the worst.  Jason disagrees and thinks it is catchy. To each his own.

But, much like the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead, when Downhere is good, they are very, very good.  And they are very, very good with pulling out some traditional songs and giving them a fresh spin.  "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" has a nice, funky beat and some terrific harmonies.  "Angels From the Realms of Glory" has just the right amount of soaring, swelling tone about it.  "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" is surely a treat of a little known French carol.  But, the crowning glory of How Many Kings is "Good King Wenceslas."  Oh my, this is a great song.  The lead singer has a fantastic Freddy Mercury twist and the ragtime beat is sublime.  Love it!

What sounds like a very mixed bag when you pick it apart individually is actually a well-put together and pleasing album in its entirety.  Even the more lyrically mundane songs work well in context because they are, as Jason said, catchy and the guys' voices are all very nice.  This is more of a nice "decorating the Christmas tree" album as opposed to a "driving around in the freezing rain and Christmas traffic and singing along" album, and it is certainly not a "weep uncontrollably in light of the amazing gift of God until complete strangers feel comfortable asking you if everything is OK" album (but so few are that).  It moves along and is sprightly enough to motivate you to tackle hanging the umpteenth box of silver ball ornaments.  Merry Christmas! 

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