Fair Trade Services
Release Date: October 9th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Laura Story– God With Us (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Love Is Here
- Just Another Christmas
- Come thou Long Expected Jesus
- Angels We Have Heard On High
- O Come All Ye Faithful (feat. Steven Curtis Chapman)
- Behold The Lamb Of God (feat. Brandon Heath)
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- I Lift My Eyes
- Silent Night
Laura Story, the writer and singer of the hit song and Chris Tomlin covered “Indescribable”, is probably one of the most underrated female vocalists currently in CCM. Releasing her debut Christmas project God With Us this past week, on the heels of her most successful album God Of Every Story, featuring smash hits such as “I Can Just Be Me”, the title track, “Who Is Like Our God” and “Keeper Of The Stars” to name a few; Laura has wowed us time and time again with her stellar and relatable songwriting, while also staying relevant to the current CCM sound as well. With parallels lyrically and musically to Bethany Dillon, Sara Groves, Christy Nockels, Natalie Grant and Nichole Nordeman, Laura already has huge shoes to fill, left by herself and the successes of her previous 2 albums. Blessings charted in 2011 at number one on the Billboard Christian Charts, while God Of Every Story was the 7th highest Christian album and 6th highest folk album in 2013. So what’s Laura to do to top that effort? Well, what she has done, is to present us with something new- a holiday album, where she thanks God for coming to Earth as a baby, singing as well with friends Steven Curtis Chapman and Brandon Heath!
As we are immersed into the holiday and seasonal spirit this time around, Laura has delivered well known carols as well as heartfelt and poignant originals, to ensure that we are blessed by some of my favourite renditions of worship songs praising Jesus, while also being exposed to new favourites as well. As we remember why we celebrate Christmas, as well as how we can reflect and ponder on Jesus giving us new life, God With Us is one of my favourite Christmas albums of 2015, alongside MercyMe’s new project, and is a must buy this Christmas season!
With half the album being well known as well as obscure carols, and the other half being covers, originals and a stirring and impacting orchestral medley; Laura covers all bases here in terms of music and theme, as we are presented with an album rich in biblical truth and varied in musical styles. “Angels We Have Heard On High” begins with vibrant keys and a mid-tempo pop atmosphere, as Laura passionately cries out God’s praises, relaying that the angels on high rejoiced His arrival that night, singing ‘…gloria, in exelcius deo…’, swelling and building up to an epic finish filled with explosive electric guitars, strings and brilliant piano work, in one of my most favourite renditions of the carol yet.
Laura also tries her hand at acoustic pop/folk with Steven Curtis Chapman in “O Come All Ye Faithful”, a rendition that stays close to what we’ve come to know and love. Yep, no alterations in melody of any sort, nor any added chorus, which could be seen as bland a bit (and maybe even criminal to let SCC to just sing backing vocals and not lead a verse!) however it is Laura’s authenticity and willingness to go against the trend to modernise carols that makes me proud of her too sticking to her beliefs and values. In the end a worthy carol is presented, and one that sticks out because of its uniqueness. The acoustic guitar driven album closer “Silent Night” is yet another song that choose to stay close to the ‘original’, as Laura relays in soothing and captivating vocals the fact that Jesus indeed needed His rest the night He was born, as Laura sings to Him ‘…sleep in Heavenly peace…’, fitting given that whenever we as believers need rest and sleep, we can turn to Jesus Himself to give us comfort and peace.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel”, a 2 minute almost acapella spine tingling and chilling rendition filled with a passionate gospel choir, is also a favourite of mine, even though the song ends just as soon as I’ve started to really enjoy the track- it’s something different and from left field, and Laura should be congratulated for breaking the mould and doing what is expected of her. While the final ‘known’ song from Laura is the lesser known “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”, driven by haunting synth, pulsating drums and an orchestral hymn sound. Written by Charles Wesley and James Furman, Laura’s added chorus reminding us all to be expected of Jesus’ coming return, provides us with hope and reason to celebrate the season, as we all glorify Jesus through song.
Now that we’ve dissected the songs that we know, let’s delve into the songs we’re a bit more unfamiliar with. “Behold The Lamb Of The Lord”, previously recorded by Andrew Peterson in his 2004 album (who can really say that they remember this song from 11 years ago?), and sung on this near-flawless rendition with Brandon Heath, Laura’s poignant and heartfelt piano prominent worship song (she did in fact write this song with Andrew way back!) is just as inspiring and touching as the album original. A worship song at heart, as Laura proclaims ‘…behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin…the life and light of men…who died and rose again, behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin…’, we are encouraged to worship God even when we’re at the lowest of lows, as Jesus Himself has promised that He will be with us, even to the end of the age. Another ‘known’ but ‘not known’ melody is Laura’s 2008 original Christmas song “Emmanuel”, containing lyrics from the popular carol “Once In Royal David’s City”. With exquisite keys and synth driving the melody, Laura fervently outlines how ‘…Emmanuel, the promise kept, its longing of my heart for God in flesh, through this child, all earth is blessed…’, reiterating that we are now free, holy and blameless, predominately due to Jesus’ birth and coming down to Earth, a fact that we often don’t think about or dwell on enough, and a fact that should boggle our mind!
The album opener “Love Is Here” is one track that could double up as a single on a future studio album, with the vibrant, energetic, joyous electric guitar prominent mid-tempo worship anthem focusing lyrically and thematically on Jesus’ love permeating throughout every facet of our being, encouraging us to spread more of His word and the gospel to everyone, as ‘…there is a new song filling up the dark, there is a new hope filling every heart, there is a new song rising over the world, oh love is here, there is a new joy running through the streets, all of earth and heaven join to sing, oh love is here…’; while the second melody “Just Another Christmas”, a mid tempo keys led CCM ballad with Christmas bells at the forefront, challenges our perception and our view of Christmas and what it really means, and should mean to us, as Laura powerfully and prayerfully asks God ‘…don’t let there be a moment I’ve missed, don’t let this be just another Christmas this year…’. Yet it is the nearly 7 minute film score like song “I Lift My Eyes”, complete with resounding orchestral music and grandiose movement of feeling and raw emotion, that has me declaring that Laura’s finest work musically and thematically is shown in this song, and that her best is yet to come!
There’s probably not enough words to describe Laura’s emotive, beautiful, spine tingling and impressive work of art, so let me just say this- if there’s only one song you listen to from this album, then this is it! “I Lift My Eyes” delves into a prayer from the Bible (Psalm 121), and is perfect for community as well as personal worship. And as I listen more and more to this emphatic and inspiring melody, in conjunction with the rest of the old and new favourites, it’s quickly becoming apparent that Laura Story is one of my favourite female vocalists right now- and in my opinion, she should definitely be proud of her efforts here!
For Laura Story, to record a jovial, happy and cheerful Christmas themed album, after the emotional and personal God Of Every Story, is probably as healing and as therapeutic for her to record, as it most likely will be for others to listen to it. Reminding us all that Jesus Christ is King, and that His brith is revolutionary and important in our faith, Laura has recorded one of her strongest albums to date. With plenty of soon to be original Christmas hits, worshipful melodies, as well as heartfelt personal ballads, you cannot go wrong with taking a look at Laura’s new album. For fans of singer songwriters such as Jason Gray, Nichole Nordeman, and Jonny Diaz, as well as pop/worship artists Christy Nockels and Natalie Grant; God With Us should be on everyone’s list, for album to listen to this coming Christmas! Well done Laura for 10 songs that have touched my soul and changed me for the better, as we progress into the latter months of the year!
3 songs to listen to: Love Is Here, Emmanuel, I Lift My Eyes
RIYL: Meredith Andrews, Natalie Grant, Christy Nockels, Francesca Battistelli, Karyn Williams