Release Date: November 25th 2014
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- What Child is This
- Do You Hear
- Silent Night
- We Sing Joy (Joy to the World)
- I Heard the Bells
Famous for their Christmas version of “Hallelujah” (originally by Leonard Cohen) and their often overplayed “Take Me Into the Beautiful” on both Air1 and K-Love; independent band Cloverton have had quite a following in both the Christian indie and CCM industry throughout the last few years. Releasing their under-the-radar first full-length album Patterns last year to critical and commercial acclaim; their new Christmas EP is something different and unique compared to the amassing of Christmas albums and EP’s releasing throughout the year, from artist like 1 Girl Nation, Michael W. Smith, Rend Collective and OBB. With the lead singer Lance Stafford sounding similar vocally and the band musically and lyrically to that of either Third Day or Building 429; it is the cleverness of the band re-writing the melody for all the carols as they deliver unique renditions of fan favourites; that make We Sing Joy one of the most unique and enjoyable EP’s of 2014 so far, and a collection of Christmas songs that every listener and fan of Christmas and CCM music should listen to before 2014 draws to a close!
Starting off the EP with a one minute instrumental introduction, “Arrival”, the band bring us keyboard riffs in a moment of tranquil reflection. While a times during the 1 minute it felt a little musically simplistic with just the keyboard riffs, the track is nevertheless a reminder that sometimes the simplest of moments can evoke the grandest of emotions- in this case, us reminded of Jesus’s arrival to Earth. Throughout the rest of the 5 tracks, Cloverton embark on delivering an EP nothing short of unique, exemplary, powerful and encouraging- as we hear Christmas carols sung in a whole new different way.
“What Child Is This” is a reminder of how Christ is the Son of God and we as Christians ought to bring our natural response of praise and adoration to the fore as we declare that ‘…this, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing…’. If it wasn’t for myself knowing lyrics for not only “What Child is This”, I may not have recognised the melody, and thus may have assumed that Cloverton had written each of the melodies. Despite the alteration of the music (which may possibly turn people away from the EP instead of towards), Cloverton’s cleverness is carefully choreographed within these tracks to make We Sing Joy one of the most ingenious albums of 2014 so far.
“Do You Hear”, “I Heard the Bells”, “Silent Night” and “We Sing Joy (Joy to the World)” all round out the 6 track EP, and each of them, whilst sounding somewhat different compared to the originals that we know so well, still possess great emotion, power and comfort as we see this impending Christmas coming with all its moments to be both joyous and solemn about as the days tick by. With a keyboard anchoring “I Heard the Bells”, Lance’s powerful voice, reminding me of Mac Powell of Third Day; is enough for listeners to be swept up in the emotion of the song and how the bells on Christmas are a clear reminder of God’s sovereignty in the lives we lead. The acoustic guitar, electronic keyboards and vocal distortion, and light electric guitar bring the songs of “We Sing Joy”, “Silent Night” and “Do You Hear” to life respectively.
Especially enjoying “Do You Hear” with the extra chorus, Lance brings this song in particular a uniqueness that sets it apart compared to the other melodies on the album. Whilst “Silent Night” may have too much vocal distortion, and “We Sing Joy” being a solid performance, yet not a standout; “Do You Hear” manages to keep the consistency of the original in terms of stanzas, yet also Cloverton making the song their own in the poignancy of the question- “…do you hear, crying to the King, the angels as they sing, salvation comes from in a manger, do you see the light that shone the way, shining still today, our King has come from in a manger…” What a powerful performance and my favourite song from We Sing Joy!
Arguably my favourite Christmas EP from this year, Cloverton’s Christmas effort is up there with standouts from artists like 1 Girl Nation, Rend Collective, Michael W. Smith and OBB, making 2014 one of my favourite years of Christmas albums releases. With possibly one of the most ingenious arrangements of Christmas songs since Seabird’s unique renditions years ago, Lance Stafford, with his vocals a striking resemblance to Third Day’s Mac Powell, will hopefully use this comparison to his advantage in both this album and albums to come. We Sing Joy is nothing short of a masterpiece, and a recommendation to anyone who loves CCM, Christmas music or both. Well done Lance and the band for such a powerful EP, with the only downpoint being a tad too much electronics on “Silent Night” and the EP being too short! Looking forward to the next studio album release whenever that may be!
3 songs to listen to: Do You Hear, We Sing Joy, What Child is This
RIYL: Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, Third Day, MercyMe