Chris Tomlin – Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live)

Capitol Christian Music Group

Release Date: September 24th 2021

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Chris Tomlin– Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live) (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Emmanuel God With Us
  2. Christmas Day (feat. We The Kingdom)
  3. All The World Awaits (Hosanna)
  4. Hallelujah (feat. Blessing Offor)
  5. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
  6. His Name Is Wonderful
  7. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  8. Hope Of Israel
  9. O Holy Night (feat. CeCe Winans)
  10. Crown Him (Christmas) (feat. Matt Redman)
  11. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
  12. Crown Him (Reprise) (feat. Matt Redman)

How much Christmas music is too much? That is the question as we approach Chris Tomlin’s latest effort Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live). While we as a site have only just begun this year to cover reviews of Christmas albums and movies as well (we just reviewed Pentatonix’s Evergreen just today!), and will endeavour over the next couple of weeks to voice our thoughts and opinions on new Christmas albums from Kelly Clarkson, Matthew West, Norah Jones, Rob Thomas, Kristin Chenoweth, Pistol Annies and more; why don’t we first gloss over the elephant in the room. And it is this question. Even though Chris Tomlin is a mega worship star, and someone who is highly respected by a lot of people; given that he’s already released 2 Christmas albums (Glory In The Highest in 2009 and Adore in 2015), is what we hear in Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship unique and different to his previous efforts? While Pentatonix creatively and skilfully distinguish their Christmas albums, and make them each distinctive, individual and superb in their own right, does Chris do this as well?

While Chris Tomlin is a worship leader that has divided many, in terms of many believing that he is right now settling into mediocrity and just ‘phoning it in’ or ‘going through the motions’; he has nonetheless written and release many hits such as songs like “Forever”, “We Fall Down”, “The Wonderful Cross”, “How Great Is Our God”, “Our God”, “Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone”, “Indescribable”, “Holy Is The Lord”, “Famous One”, “Enough”, “Jesus Messiah”, “I Will Rise”, “I Lift My Hands”, “God’s Great Dance Floor”, “Whom Shall I Fear?”, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Waterfall”. When one hears a Chris Tomlin song, guaranteed sound and biblical lyrics are front and centre, as well as an inspiring message and a Holy Spirit infused melody. I guess that’s why most of Chris’s songs sound somewhat similar to each other and somewhat similar to the state of CCM back when he started- simply because Chris’s predominant focus isn’t on staying current musically but rather on the lyrics. But from a few songs here and there on Holy Roar as well as a couple on Never Lose Sight; it’s clear that maybe Chris needs a tad more inspiration- as what I’m feeling are songs that I can’t connect to for whatever reason.

With “Hope Of Israel” sounding very lullabyish, “Little Drummer Boy” technically sound but definitely not as engaging as versions from Lincoln Brewster and Pentatonix, and “His Name Is Wonderful” solid but not spectacular; it seems that the EP opener and title track “Christmas Day” is the only bright spot on a release that is entirely forgettable. Chris and We The Kingdom sing together in perfect harmony, and deliver probably one of Chris’s standout original Christmas songs ever. But an EP cannot be judged on solely the first song. Thus now here we are, wishing that Chris would record these songs better to perfection. But as we can’t do anything about it, let me say before I finish up, is to place all knowledge of these songs (excluding the title track) at the back of your mind and try to forget about them. That’s the only way we’ll survive this Christmas period I reckon. 

Chris Tomlin is good as an artist, but this EP doesn’t reflect this as much as I know Chris is capable of. After coming off his unique and different Chris Tomlin and Friends album unveiled in July 2020, I’d expect Chris to be all for innovation and uniqueness, but this EP shows none of those things. In fact, this EP unfortunately is one of the most forgettable Christmas collections I’ve heard, in, well, ever! Yes, and I do mean ever. And no, I’m not discounting Chris’s enthusiasm or even passion. But something has to delineate between this album release and countless others. And I can’t find it. Regardless, someone else can enjoy this EP immensely, but unfortunately at this time, it won’t be me. Maybe in a few years, but as of now, it’s off to listen to Pentatonix’s We Need a Little Christmas. Now that album is definitely unique in the most unique ways possible.

Chris’s album sadly doesn’t have a Christmas feel- it has a worshipful feel, and that’s ok if you’re into worship all year around. But for someone who is picking up an album to listen to, to bring them into the Christmas mood…check out any one of Pentatonix’s albums, alongside Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories, or even Michael W. Smith’s The Spirit of Christmas, before this one. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll realise that Chris may not be the go-to person to listen to for Christmas music, and that in and of itself is still ok. Chris’s album objectively is good if not presented as a Christmas album. But it is, and on that definition, needs to be critiqued as so. Miracle of Love didn’t excite me as I thought it could’ve, here’s hoping the next Christmas offering from Chris in the future, can take a page out of either Andrew Peterson or Pentatonix’s book to create something unique and worthwhile in the future.

Last year, Chris wowed me with the very unique country/CCM fusion collaborative album Chris Tomlin & Friends. He defied my expectations, and I was extremely impressed. But as evidenced in my review of Chris’s 2019 Christmas EP Christmas Day: Christmas Songs Of Worship (the first two paragraphs of the quotes above) and Jon’s review of Chris’s 2020 Christmas EP Miracle Of Love: Christmas Songs Of Worship (the last two paragraphs of the quotes above); Chris is indeed sometimes hit and miss. He can be really good like on the collaborative country album from last year, or lacklustre like in the Christmas EP’s he has been releasing lately. And since Chris Tomlin And Friends, Chris has dropped the underwhelming EP Chris Tomlin & Friends: Summer EP, as well as the generic single “I See You”; I’d say that there was reason for concern and apprehension when I heard of Chris’s latest live Christmas album. Lots of questions swirled around in my head- and when you’re not excited for an album… well that can spell bad news. So I bit the bullet, and seeing that it is Christmas coming up, I have extended an olive branch to Chris and his Christmas music; just to see if it is reliable once again. And the answer is… well, an improvement upon the previous 2 Christmas EP’s, that’s for sure. But once again… still somewhat of a lacklustre and an unoriginal effort.

The title track opens proceedings, and is an original Christmas themed worship melody. In fact, most of these original songs here are in fact worship melodies first and foremost… which makes this album difficult to pass along to friends and family who aren’t believers. Regardless, the opener is a solid, passionate, inspiring and encouraging worship anthem whereby Chris cries out that Jesus can be worshipped every day for everything He’s done for us. Overtly referencing lyrics in the traditional carol “Go Tell It On The Mountain” as Chris relays in the verses that we need to go and tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is Lord, “Emmanuel” is hopeful and a song fit for the church… but personally I don’t reckon it is memorable like any Christmas song from Pentatonix. “Christmas Day”, on the other hand, with We The Kingdom, is a bright spot, as joy, celebration, passion and enthusiasm permeates throughout; and as Chris and the folk/worship band cry out ‘…sing all you people, the Lord almighty reigns, sing every creature of God, come bless His name, for He is good, for He is good, He was born to conquer the grave, light of the world, the reason for Christmas Day…’, we are encouraged to vibrantly sing out to Jesus with praise as well. “All The World Awaits (Hosanna)” is technically sound and lyrically strong, with the story of Christmas vividly included, yet somehow and someway feels flat and uninspired; while the simplistic yet effective “Hallelujah” features Blessing Offor singing the track solo, and is one of the standouts on a ho-hum project- Blessing earnestly singing Hallelujah to the little Baby Boy.

“I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”, an obscure melody turned worshipful anthem, isn’t the same iconic and powerful melody from Casting Crowns, yet is an equally profound and impacting melody that praises God and declares ‘…I heard them ringing, I heard them ringing, all across the earth I heard them ringing, the bells remember, they ring forever, unto us a child is born our savior…’; however the same cannot be said of “His Name Is Wonderful”. The song is solid, and lyrically near-flawless objectively, but as a package, this song underwhelms- it is an original Christmas song, but is littered with cliches and repetition… so much that at times I fell asleep during this song. Chris also covers “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “O Holy Night” very clinically and expertly (“O Holy Night” is sung entirely by CeCe Winans), however these songs are indeed just ‘run-of-the-mill’, and aren’t ground-breaking at all; while “Hope Of Israel” is rather lullaby-ish and is another miss- it clearly isn’t musically inventive, and it’s a track that isn’t as engaging as Chris’s other original Christmas songs like “Noel” and “Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground)”. Thankfully, Matt Redman then comes in to save this album from being somewhat forgettable, with a stirring, timely, moving, encouraging and emotive rendition of the timeless hymn classic “Crown Him”, this time adding in and meshing Christmas verses together with the original well-known first verse.

Can I just be frank and honest with you all? Chris Tomlin has tried hard with this Christmas album, there’s no doubt about it. There’s honest original melodies, and technically, everything is top notch. But the reality is… that this album sounds like another worship album, or like Chris’s other Christmas albums before. And when there’s nothing here that distinguishes this album from others… then that’s a worry. Chris also tends to add on original choruses to well known carols, and he does the same here to. Save for “Hallelujah” with Blessing, “Crown Him” with Matt and “Christmas Day” with We The Kingdom… maybe you shouldn’t buy Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship? There, I said it- the first Chris Tomlin album I’m discouraging everyone to buy. Just cherry pick some songs on Spotify which resonate with you… and let’s just hope and pray that Chris’s next album, whenever it releases, is better than this project. No offence Chris, but this isn’t your best. Not by a long shot.

3 songs to listen to: Christmas Day, Hallelujah, Crown Him (Christmas)

Score: 2.5/5

RIYL: Crowder, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Jesus Culture, Meredith Andrews

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