Capitol Records / UMG Recordings
Release Date: September 25th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
- Come All Ye Faithful
- Let There Be Peace
- Little Drummer Boy (feat. Isaiah Fisher)
- Sweet Baby Jesus
- Hallelujah (feat. John Legend)
- O Holy Night
- Mary, Did You Know?
- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
- Away In A Manger
- Silent Night
2020 has really put a dampener on everyone’s spirits… quite literally. COVID-19 has been relentless, and we don’t need to go into the harrowing details of what it is or isn’t- because I’m sure you all know what it is and how it has affected you personally and the world at large. How we get through this pandemic and soldier on, highlights the type of person we are, and here’s hoping that determination, tenacity and positivity are brought to the fore through this ordeal- no matter how destructive and unexpected it was. Now I don’t know any of your circumstances, so I won’t pretend to know what you are going through. But for me, it has been music, the power of music, and the power of God through music- that has been an immense help at me seeing perspective in the midst of COVID-19, and has me still hoping and praying for a brighter future. Music from many genres (such as CCM, worship, pop, rock, country) have touched my soul and spirit- yet as we hit December, there’s no other music so inspiring and full of life and stirring than Christmas music.
Yep, Christmas music. the music that celebrates Jesus’ birth, the music that talks about the festive, family, holiday aspect of the holiday, or both. Music that is a guilty pleasure for us that we all mightn’t want to admit we listen to all year round- and music where songs like “O Holy Night” still brings a joy and a smile to our faces, no matter who is singing it. Yep, Christmas music is music that we all can listen to year in and year out- and I guess you could listen to an artist you wouldn’t normally listen to because of that fact that ‘It’s Christmas music’! And though this ‘review’ or blog of sorts could sound like me writing about the benefits of listening to Christmas music, and trying to convince the Scrooges of the world to be happier and more jovial, even in the face of adversity; let me instead peel back to layers on some Christmas albums that have been released this year that has hit my soul hard, and albums which I’m sure will resonate no matter what you are going through.
Now let us begin back in September when the first Christmas album of 2020 released. Now we all know about Carrie Underwood, who she is and what she’s all about. If you don’t know on the off chance, you can read my brother’s blog about her, or read my review of Cry Pretty from a few years ago… but seriously, who doesn’t know the ‘Queen of modern country’? After already releasing many albums and a slew of radio country hits (if you want more information and stats, check out Wikipedia or Jon’s blog!), My Gift was unveiled to the world a few months ago- and boy is this Christmas album just what we all need right now. Unashamedly and unapologetically optimistic and positive in the face of despair and adversity, Carrie delivers 11 soul-stirring and out-of-this-world vocal powerhouse moments that transcend human comprehension; and as she powerfully and poignantly sings out Jesus’ praises and celebrates His birth, I can confidently say that from many, many listens, My Gift stands tall amongst other holiday albums, and is a great album period to inspire and motivate you to keep going and keep pressing on in life.
A look down the track list reveals a great mix praise-worthy worshipful carols and heartfelt originals that I’m sure will become staples, and will be covered in the many years to come. The album opens up with “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (a hymn, not a carol!) and is a beautiful, eloquently sung rendition of one of my favourite hymns of all time. Carrie’s vocals have never been better than in this moment, and though this track is sung against the musical backdrop of a piano with no hint of a full band at all; there’s still no denying the immense passion and enthusiasm, which should engage even the most indifferent of listeners. Carrie also delivers plenty more worshipful moments here, with the acoustic guitar led “O Come All Ye Faithful”, complete with a stirring synth and orchestral crescendo; a heartfelt duet with son Isaiah in “Little Drummer Boy” (though for KING & COUNTRY’s version is still the pinnacle for me!); and the iconic and near-flawless “O Holy Night” all being standouts.
“Mary Did You Know” is such an underrated carol, yet Carrie’s inclusion of the track on My Gift reminds us of the plight of Mary during the birth of Jesus, and her struggling emotions throughout- having to reconcile the knowledge of her son being the Messiah with a very human birth and a very human pregnancy; while the two most overplayed and over-covered carols in my opinion (“Away In A Manger” and “Silent Night”) are also covered by Carrie here as the two album closers. On first glance, they’re musically nothing special… although this musically simplicity really brings out Carrie’s vocals more, and after a few listens to these songs in particular, I’ve grown to love them as some of the best renditions of these carols. The lone holiday classic representative is “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, probably the most overplayed ‘secular carol’- however Carrie’s voice is stellar here, though not enough for me to resonate with the track, due to the absurdly slow tempo. The concept of wishing each other Merry Christmas is noble though, but may sound ‘fake’ given the global pandemic, which makes “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” not as resonating or engaging as once thought. Carrie’s originals though, bring this ‘good’ album into the stratospheric level of greatness, as My Gift continues to impress.
Lead single “Let There Be Peace” is a worship/gospel melody that could actually be sung at all times of the year- and is easily the standout on My Gift. Overt in its nature of speaking out the truth of Jesus Christ (‘…when I look in the mirror, all I wanna see, is true compassion looking back at me, I wanna, I wanna love my neighbor, and be the hands and feet of Jesus, take His love to the least of these…’), Carrie emphatically prophesises and declares peace, joy and love all over us, which is a very, very good thing to claim for ourselves, especially in 2020; while “Sweet Baby Jesus”, a piano led inspiring melody, is sung to Jesus, asking Him as to whether His decision to come to Earth as a baby in a manger- as fully God and fully man- was strange, while the track also doubles up as a prayer of gratitude and thanks; thanking God for saving us from sin and from ourselves by coming as a baby in a manger. The final original is “Hallelujah”, a powerful duet with John Legend, and is a subtle and covert prayer to God, thanking Him for the season and for the opportunity to be surrounded by friends and family, and the opportunity to celebrate comradery and kinship, to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to celebrate and be positive in a season like this. Lyrically, the song is super vague, but John and Carrie’s vocal presence as a duet is near-flawless, and still has us singing along anyway!
Full disclaimer- Carrie Underwood’s album isn’t a country album. But it is festive, it does celebrate Jesus’ birth, it does contain many Holy-Spirit led moments, and it does contain a timelessness and iconic aspect to it that I’m sure you all will agree with me with. My Gift does sound very traditional though, and if you want to hear jazzier, rockier, poppier and more musically up-to-date carols, then sadly My Gift isn’t the Christmas album for you. However if you prefer Christmas to be familiar like hugging an old friend that you haven’t seen for years… then My Gift is perfect. So, what are you waiting for? The world may be on a knife’s edge, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate Jesus or the holiday season! Well done Carrie, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you next! Now… let’s add “Let There Be Peace” to every Spotify playlist, shall we? Yep, to all the playlists across the year!
3 songs to listen to: Let There Be Peace, Sweet Baby Jesus, O Holy Night
RIYL: Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Kelly Clarkson, Tori Kelly, Hunter Hayes, Jana Kramer, Point Of Grace, Thomas Rhett, Maddie & Tae