JJ Heller – I Dream Of You: CHRISTMAS

Stone Table Records

Release Date: November 18th 2022

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

JJ Heller– I Dream Of You: CHRISTMAS (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
  2. Holly Jolly Christmas
  3. Christmas Time Is Here
  4. Sleigh Ride
  5. My Favourite Things
  6. All I Want For Christmas Is You
  7. The Christmas Song
  8. Snow
  9. Joy To The World
  10. Breath Of Heaven
  11. I Have Enough
  12. Star Of Wonder
  13. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  14. Welcome To Our World

JJ Heller (short for Jennifer Judy) is in my opinion possibly one of the most unique, musically diverse, and poignant female indie artists I have heard the last few years. After her successful 2013 album Loved and her lullaby album I Dream of You in 2014; JJ set out to release the critically acclaimed new album Sound Of A Living Heart in 2015, featuring hit songs such as “Let Down Your Guard”, “Fully Known” and “The Well” to name a few. Famous for songs throughout her career like “Control”, “Who You Are”, “Boat Song” and “What Love Really Means”; JJ stepped out of her comfort zone once again in 2016, presenting us with a well-crafted and thought-out Christmas album Unto Us. With the beautifully produced and intricately designed melodies ranging from familiar worshipful carols, mainstream holiday themed songs and original tracks; there was definitely something on this 13-track unique musical and lyrical seasonal experience, as we worship God and remember Him coming to Earth in a manger all those years ago! With JJ right now releasing many sequels to the I Dream Of You series (of which you can read our various reviews here!); now’s the time for JJ to embark on something new. I Dream Of You: Christmas released about a month ago, and as JJ has recorded these 14 inspiring and motivational Christmas melodies in her own unique acoustic pop genre that we all have come to know and love; JJ’s vibrant and eclectic project is one of the most inspiring Christmas albums I’ve heard over the past few years, as JJ is able to craft these songs full of life and vitality. With I Dream Of You: Christmas being a more than welcome addition to my iTunes playlist, this serene and reflective Christmas album is indeed a perfect album to listen to if you have been a fan of JJ’s previous material, or if you enjoy artists like Jewel, Bebo Norman, Audrey Assad, Amy Grant, Sara Groves or Brooke Fraser.

With 9 of the 14 melodies on this holiday project being ‘mainstream’ themed holiday tracks and other covers, I reckon it’s one of the most highest percentage-wise of ‘mainstream carols’ to total Christmas songs in any particular ‘Christian’ Christmas album, however JJ skilfully records each melody with aplomb, immense passion and overall exuberance that the absence of Jesus in these tracks doesn’t really detract from the overall message of family and just the sheer notion of happiness and joy that JJ evidently displays. Album opener “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”, is a eclectic, vibrant and joyous occasion, as the legendary holiday tune has a ‘JJ’ makeover, as the piano and strings are at the forefront, creating a more relaxed and acoustic vibe, but a celebratory mood nonetheless. JJ follows the bouncy album opener with the equally bouncy melody “Holly Jolly Christmas”- also with the piano at the forefront (possibly because that’s JJ’s musical style!); while the soft, reflective, and contemplative ballad “Christmas Time Is Here” is just as special, magical, and transfixing as the preceding melodies before it.

The rest of I Dream Of You: Christmas, speaks about the truth of Jesus Christ being born for all of us, while also delivering to us well-known holiday songs for the family aspect of the holiday. “Sleigh Ride” is transformed from a normally fast-paced pop/rock melody to a piano led mid-tempo ballad (which is indeed inspiring and moving, however I still enjoy Relient K’s recording of “Sleigh Ride” the best!), while JJ powerfully, creatively and beautifully delivers impacting and eloquent piano led renditions of “My Favourite Things” (Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music), the iconic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (Mariah Carey), and “The Christmas Song” (Nat King Cole). These melodies are iconic and synonymous with Christmas- and to tackle a cover of any of these is a tall feat- but JJ is indeed up to the challenge and then some! “Snow”, an obscure ‘holiday’ track, was originally recorded by Bing Crosby, and is covered here with sublime execution (and is at this point of most ‘upbeat’ song on the album!); while the album closer “Welcome To Our World” (Michael W. Smith), has JJ earnestly singing to baby Jesus, providing Him with a welcome into our world, crying out ‘…bring Your peace into our violence, bid our hungry souls be filled, Word now breaking Heaven’s silence, welcome to our world, welcome to our world…so wrap our injured flesh around You, breathe our air and walk our sod, rob our sin and make us holy, perfect Son of God, perfect Son of God, welcome to our world…’.

There are only so many renditions of the ‘traditional’ carols that I or maybe everyone else can handle, and sadly “Joy To The World” falls flat as this rendition by JJ doesn’t really connect with me. I may connect with someone else though, and that’s more than fine. As it stands though, this song is the low point, but thankfully, “Breath Of Heaven”, an Amy Grant original, is exquisitely sung by JJ here, as she through Mary’s perspective, asks God to come and to help her as she gives birth- Mary asks God ‘…breath of Heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, breath of Heaven, breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me Your holiness for You are holy…’, and reminds us of the sovereignty of Jesus; while JJ majestically unveils to us an instrumental version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”- complete with Christmas bells and whistles. Rounding out I Dream Of You: Christmas are the two originals “I Have Enough” and “Star Of Wonder”. The former is a song of gratitude and thankfulness, with JJ outlining that she doesn’t need material possessions to be happy, content and satisfied- all she needs is the presence of her family and friends and everyone around her during the holidays and the true reason for the season. The latter is a reinterpretation of the obscure yet extraordinary melody “We Three Kings”- as JJ sings about the wise men and their feelings and emotions around Christmas time and around the birth of the Saviour of all mankind.

As JJ Heller reminds us through these 14 inspiring melodies what it means to be alive, to have our hearts beating, and to worship Jesus, who came to earth as a baby in a manger; this is a Christmas album not to be missed by anyone- it doesn’t matter what genre you enjoy or if you even love music with the piano at the forefront; JJ Heller’s sheer honesty and realness is sure to inspire no matter your favourite Christmas carol, or even if you love the holiday at all! One of my favourite Christmas albums this year alongside albums from Pentatonix (Holidays Around The World), Switchfoot (this is our Christmas album), Crowder (Milk And Cookies), Joss Stone (Merry Christmas, Love) and Lindsey Stirling (Snow Waltz); well done JJ for a well written and recorded album! Can’t wait for your next studio project!

Yesterday I listened to the whole thing from start to finish because I wanted to remind myself of what you’d be hearing today. I’ll tell you what, I was excited about this album when we first finished it many months ago, but I think I’m even more excited about it now. It’s just stunning.

When I made Unto Us (my first Christmas album) back in 2016, it was like a spark was lit inside me. I absolutely fell in love with singing Christmas music. It felt comfortable, familiar, challenging, and inspiring all at the same time. I loved the orchestration, the nostalgia and the children’s choir. It’s what led me down the path of making all of the orchestral I Dream of You records.

It was an absolute joy to revisit Christmas again with this new collection of songs. It was no small feat, that’s for sure. @benshive crushed it again with his absolutely gorgeous arranging and production and my brilliant husband Dave was always there to point us in the right direction.

As usual, all the players were incredible. From brass and woodwinds, to harp and percussion, keys, and strings, the @trinityboyschoir with their angelic voices, and @rob_burrell_mixermania mixing like an absolute master, there are just so many insanely talented people lending us their gifts… simply to create this one big timeless gift for you.

I hope you can hear the love, joy, and reverence in these beautiful tracks. I hope they become the backdrop to countless Christmas memories to come. I sure loved singing these songs and I can’t wait for you to sing along with me.

4 songs to listen to: Sleigh Ride, All I Want For Christmas Is You, Breath Of Heaven, Star Of Wonder

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Jewel, Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Jenny & Tyler, Sara Groves, Ellie Holcomb

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