Word Label Group
Release Date: October 30th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- In The Bleak Midwinter (Prologue)
- Joy To The World
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel (feat. Needtobreathe)
- Won’t You Come
- Heavenly Hosts
- Silent Night
- A Christmas Monologue
- Little Drummer Boy
- The Carol Of Joseph (I Believe In You)
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- Go Tell It On The Mountain (feat. Gabby Barrett)
- Angels We Have Heard On High
- In The Bleak Midwinter (Epilogue)
for KING & COUNTRY, a band that is indeed underrated and maybe even underappreciated in the wider community, has challenged me in my own walk with Christ this year and a bit, and while they may never be as big as artists like OneRepublic, Coldplay, U2 or DC Talk (of which they are similar in style towards!), they are influential in my own life, in 2019 in particular. And dare I say this Aussie duo are certain to be influential in the lives of people who have heard these songs, no matter if the people who know this duo and the people who know every other popular band, are few and far between. There’s something special about the artists that no one gives a second glance towards, and maybe, on any other given day in any other year, this Aussie duo may not ‘deserve’ its place in and amongst the endless sea of music artists. And a fair point too. But here in my own personal influential 100 artists list, Joel and Luke Smallbone are present, for music that has touched my life and has become a growing influence in my growing Christian faith these last few years. for KING & COUNTRY are a joy to listen to, and no matter the preference of musical genre, I’m sure, that anyone who hears this infectiously hopeful and poignant band, are sure to be blessed and encouraged. Relatively new (starting in 2012) in comparison to much of my other artists I’ve delved into before in this blog series; this duo from Down Under nevertheless have crafted their career in a way that allows the songs they’ve carefully created, to sit with listeners in a reflective way, delving deep within our psyches and challenging the very nature of what we were to believe is true, about ourselves, God, love, life and the rest of it. Joel and Luke have created something special in for KING & COUNTRY, and this is a band that’s certain to make waves, continually in the CCM realm, but maybe, just maybe, in the mainstream market as well!
For those who may not know who the band is, and aren’t across all things CCM like I am, let me give a crash-course on the band. Joel and Luke Smallbone, the duo who make up this band, have been a household name for quite some time, ever since their chart-topping song ‘Busted Heart’ hit the radio waves all those years ago, having taken the media, listeners and the whole general CCM industry by storm since their arrival to Word Label Group back in 2011. Relocating to Nashville in the early 1990s as their father pursued a new career opportunity, for KING & COUNTRY has been touted many times as the Aussie version of Coldplay- with a focus more on unique instrumentation and anthemic moments of revelation, realisation and just plain powerful songs full of rousing declaration and proclamation. Fast forward till 2019, and we’ve seen the duo mature and grow into a household name. Songs like “Fix My Eyes”, “Busted Heart”, “Middle of Your Heart”, “Messengers” [feat. Lecrae], “It’s Not Over Yet”, and more recently “Ceasefire”, and new songs “Joy” and “Amen” are just some examples of the songs that the band has shown us, and the calibre of them. The band has managed to show us what it means to succeed in the CCM industry, while still delivering engaging and thoughtful melodies that encourage us to see and look beyond ourselves, as we challenge the status quo and ask ourselves the continuing question- ‘why’ and ‘why should this be if I don’t agree with the way that it is now’? Topics like self worth, identity, the human condition, and man’s relationship with the creator and the created, are some of the messages scattered through these songs.
“…This album has been 8 years in the making. It all started in an old factory on a dreary 2012 autumn’s night where we dreamt up our rendition of ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ And from that day to this, and with a load of Christmas tours, singles and EPs under our belt, we’ve fallen in love with this miraculous season and it’s been written into the band’s DNA.
So, when the hardship of 2020 took hold of the world, we thought that it would be the imperfectly perfect year to put together our first ever full-length Christmas record. And what a recording journey it’s been and an international one at that, from producers (Matt Hales) in Bath England, to string orchestration (Davide: Coldplay) in Copenhagen, to recording with our live band in Nashville, or mixing in London – this album has truly been a global creation.
And therefore, it’s with great reverence and pride coupled with the hope that Christmas 2020 will be the most redemptive and joy-filled celebration of the greatest hope mankind has ever known – the birth of Jesus Christ, that we present to you A Drummer Boy Christmas…”
Joel and Luke Smallbone are brothers, are also Australian, and form the Christian pop duo for KING & COUNTRY. And there’s not much more I can say about the duo, without me going on and on for ages, because I truly believe they are quite compelling, powerful, honest, emotive and vulnerable- so if you all want to read more about Joel and Luke’s history, you can check out Wikipedia, or my brother’s blog about them that he wrote about a year ago. With many of their hit songs such as “Busted Heart”, “The Proof Of Your Love”, “Middle Of Your Heart”, “Shoulders”, “Fix My Eyes”, “It’s Not Over Yet”, “O God Forgive Us”, “Burn The Ships”, “Joy”, “Amen” and “Priceless” all winning over the hearts of many listeners- believers and non-believers alike; we are met with the group diving deep into the unknown and something new. For when the pandemic hit in March this year, artists were scrambling for something to do that could A- pass the time, and B- be considered and deemed as creative enough by the public. Also, artists also didn’t want to seem to be intentionally capitalising on the misfortunate of others in order for the world to see and hear their own songs- I mean it’s a bit insensitive to keep marketing your own music while people are dying everywhere in the world, right? That’s certainly the case when the pandemic started, and that’s why many albums were pushed back to the end of the year or some even to next year (I’m looking at you, OneRepublic!). So artists had to evolve in 2020- not ideal, but you gotta make lemonade out of lemons, am I right? So for KING & COUNTRY embarked on a musical journey of epic and anthemic proportions- a collection of songs so grandiose and so big and so moving and so powerful… that this might be their most impacting and most cohesive project yet. A couple of months ago A Drummer Boy Christmas was unveiled to the world… and though the world has been bombarded with plenty of Christmas albums especially in 2020 (My Gift from Carrie Underwood, We Need A Little Christmas from Pentatonix, Only Santa Knows from Delta Goodrem, A Tori Kelly Christmas from Tori Kelly, Birth Of A King from Tommee Proffitt and more!); it is in my own opinion that there is no greater thought-provoking holiday album than the one from my own countrymen. For KING & COUNTRY have never shied away from their faith, and they’ve also always tried to appeal to the mainstream market, and write music for people from all walks of life. Consequently, I reckon their not as popular as they should be… but I’d say that all changes now, with this Christmas project.
For anyone of you looking for a ‘traditional’ review of a Christmas album, one where I speak about each song at length, and what it means to me and what I think each song means for the artist; should turn back now. I’ve reviewed so many Christmas albums over the past few years, and nowadays, it becomes almost immaterial to review Christmas albums these days- as you hear more often than not the same Christmas carols redone (“Silent Night” for one!), the same holiday songs redone (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”?), and a few originals that are generally ok, but not that engaging or memorable. That seems to be the template on most Christmas albums… Yet this project is one another level of brilliance. Cleverly and skilfully opening and closing with a piano led 1 minute prologue and epilogue of one of the most underrated carols ever- “In The Bleak Midwinter”; Joel and Luke then dive deep and do not sugar-coat anything- as they explicitly and vividly delve into the reason for the season. Sure you have the staple carols like “Joy To The World”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Angels We Have Heard On High”, the obligatory and definitely overplayed “Silent Night”, and heart-warming duets with Needtobreathe in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and with Gabby Barrett in “Go Tell It On The Mountain”… and while at first glance, one could think that these songs aren’t exciting enough; these carols are anything but boring.
They’re each given the for KING & COUNTRY treatment- which is a musical style that is hard to explain in words, and much better if you all could listen to these songs and experience the epic-ness for yourselves… but let me just say that what could have been a solid, competent, and capable album, turns into something much more special and meaningful and hopeful and almost near-flawless; simply from the musical stamp of for KING & COUNTRY, and their immense passion too. For KING & COUNTRY’s signature Christmas song that is almost sung at every concert is “Little Drummer Boy”; and it’s a musical experience like no other- with the track being my most favourite version of the carol ever. So it makes sense that the pseudo-title track is the heartbeat of the album, and it makes sense that the song that has been resonating with people ever since 2012, since the group’s first performance of the song; would be the song to propel these guys to even greater heights. Seriously, if there’s one song to listen to from for KING & COUNTRY on this album- I’d have to say that it’s “Little Drummer Boy”… and that’s all there is to it. Watch the music video too, and be amazed at the camera work and the detail that went into making this song a musical masterpiece!
Original Christmas songs can be a bit tricky, as you’re trying to capture the essence of Christmas, and trying to also make a song your own… but Joel and Luke make it easy with their two tracks “Heavenly Hosts” and “The Carol Of Joseph (I Believe In You)”. The former, led by Luke, is an all-out worship song driven by the keys that is something that the shepherds could’ve sung on that night of Jesus’ birth; while the latter is a personal and emotional track, also led by Luke, sung from Joseph’s perspective, singing to Jesus and also Mary saying to Joseph that she believes in him, and then Joseph in turn letting Jesus know that he believes in Him. It’s such a poignant and emotional track- and though these two songs are musically mellow and contemplative; they both embody the Christmas spirit and the story of Jesus so beautifully. “Won’t You Come”, a spoken word paraphrasing of Isaiah 9:2-7, precedes “Heavenly Hosts”; yet there is no other track that is more inspiring than the spoken word “A Christmas Monologue” that precedes “Little Drummer Boy”. Just take a listen below and be amazed at the wonder of what Christmas is all about.
To think that a baby boy born in a stable
No prestige, no privilege
No social media or social status
Political campaigns or private airplanes
And yet, He turned BC into AD
He flipped the world on its head
He’s the most famous name around the globe
Inspired the most read book ever written
He reconnected us to Heaven and, in turn, brought Heaven down to Earth
And now, He offers us redemption
A fresh start
So that we can hold our heads high and march through this life knowing that we are never alone
That every woman and man, boy and girl
To all of us who feel like we have nothing left
Nothing to bring
We can know that God is smiling at us
That He’s loving us
That we are enough
So light up that Christmas tree
Stand under the mistletoe
Surround yourself with the ones you love the most
And, together, let’s celebrate the greatest news this world has ever known
One of my favorite parts of Christmas is how Mary is celebrated. But there’s this quiet hero all along the way. Even when you go back and read the Biblical stories there’s not a lot of emphasis on [Joseph]. You put yourself in his shoes of having this child who is not his, but he chooses to love and be a good father to him. I think one of the things we don’t think of is Jesus—being human and a strong character that he was and the graceful character that he was—obviously much of that would have come from his mother but there’s a portion of that that would have come from his dad, as well. It became this grounded story of taking a snapshot of those initial moments between Joseph, Jesus and Mary. One of my favorite moments is in the song when Mary says, ‘I believe in you,’ and this idea of the mother of God saying to her husband, ‘I believe in you,’ that you can raise this child. Each time it gets to that moment in the record—I don’t cry often, but it is one of those moments that is emotional.
The album might not exist because we had been planning on traveling so much this year. The record was literally bouncing around from continent to continent as it was made. It’s literally been this worldwide creative team that has spoken into this project as well. I think the spirit of the record speaks very internationally because of that.
We toyed around with the ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ songs or ‘Frosty the Snowman’—which, from an Australian’s perspective, ‘Frosty the Snowman’ when you are in the dead heat of summer celebrating Christmas, makes no sense—but, just coming out of some of the hell of 2020 so far, we really wanted to make this album 45 minutes of spiritual hope, and a celebration of the hope of what Christmas has to offer. Even songs that we wrote for the project were specifically focused on how to bring to light to people.
So there you have it. 44 minutes and 53 seconds of sheer musical genius and an album for the ages. for KING & COUNTRY’s A Drummer Boy Christmas is captivating and powerful as the duo tackle the Christmas story with professionalism, heart, joyfulness and a sense of reflection and reverence that I have not seen in a long time. The Christmas story is timeless, and there are so many ways to tell the story- as a religious story or a story that only has the holiday aspect to it; yet for KIING & COUNTRY have forgoes niceties and warm fuzzies and have gone straight for thew jugular- the immutable truth of Jesus being born into the world as fully man and fully God, and born to save us all from ourselves. What greater truth do we need this Christmas? So let us sit back and pray that COVID-19 is over soon… but more than that let us pray that God continues to work in us and changes us from the inside out. What better way to do that than against the backdrop of one of the most thought-provoking and powerful and exquisite Christmas albums of the year? Well done, for KING & COUNTRY; Joel and Luke should be proud of themselves, and I cannot wait for the next all new original studio album #5!
3 songs to listen to: Heavenly Hosts, Little Drummer Boy, Angels We Have Heard On High
RIYL: Andrew Peterson, Tenth Avenue North, Kevin Max, Newsboys, Crowder, Coldplay, Daughtry, Switchfoot, Jars Of Clay