Fair Trade Services
Release Date: October 9th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Christmastime Again
- Sleigh Ride
- I’ll Be Home For Christmas
- Hold On Christmas
- A Holly Jolly Christmas
- Go Tell It On The Mountain
- Do You Hear What I Hear
- Our Lullaby
- O Come, O Come
It’s that time of year again! Yep, it’s Christmas time! “But…it’s more than 2 months away!”, I hear you saying. “I haven’t even figured out what I am going to buy for ___ for their Christmas presents!” I hear you saying also! Well, 2 months to go is when I guess the Christmas celebrations start. Christmas is indeed a wonderful, blessed and probably most special time of the year, as believers are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; though it’s a nitpick and a concern of mine that as early as September, the stores light up their establishments with Christmas lights and decorations, and many turkeys, puddings, tinsel, trees and other ornaments are sold. Ads on TV or at the cinemas for Christmas themed movies are released, and even in the CCM industry, Christmas albums release early as well. Having reviewed plenty of Christmas albums over the years, some as early as September, I have come to the understanding and realisation, that the shops celebrating Christmas in advance, is a fact of life that has been embraced by and engrained in our culture over the past few years.
Enter in Dove Award winning and Grammy nominated band MercyMe. Comprised of lead singer Bart, guitarists Mike and Barry, bassist Nathan and drummer Robby, the five piece group of friends from Texas, will probably be one of my favourite bands ever, due to the fact that my family and I saw them live in Sydney Australia, for a concert in 2012, and we thoroughly enjoyed the night. Ever since then my level of eagerness for every album the band release has been heightened more and more, with the 2014 new studio effort Welcome To The New probably being the band’s most emotional and personal album yet, with songs such as “Shake”, “Finish What He Started”, “Greater” and “Flawless” all ministering to my soul and drawing me closer to Christ. This past week, Mercy Me, It’s Christmas! dropped, and though their first Christmas album released 10 years ago, it’s nice to hear the band be immersed in the Christmas Spirit once again, with an album which is in fact picking up where The Christmas Sessions left off.
As we remember the true reason of why we celebrate, and acknowledge the fact that Jesus was born so that we could be given new life; MercyMe’s enjoyable and inspiring collection of well-known carols and original tracks, produced by Brown Bannister, is a must buy this Christmas season, regardless if you love MercyMe’s previous albums or not! From countless listens to the 11 track album, which features heartwarming and stirring renditions of classic carols, as well as earnest and poignant original Christmas songs, you can tell that this is one special band sure to be around for a while longer yet! It’s no wonder that MercyMe were named at the No. 1 Christian artist of the decade in 2009 by Billboard!
With 8 of the 11 songs being well know carols (most with newly penned choruses and/or also altered music to give these songs more kick and relevance!), let’s just dive in and see which well-known songs the band has covered, shall we? Opening strings themed epic orchestral medley “The Newborn Has Come” opens proceedings, as Bart and co. cover “Away In a Manger”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”. On the surface, these well-known melodies do not have much in common musically, however MercyMe makes this medley work! With these three seamless fragments joined together by a captivating chorus outlining ‘…hallelujah, the Newborn has come…’, underpinned by enchanting synth, inspiring vocals and soaring strings; the album opener has grabbed my attention one hundred percent, and the band doesn’t disappoint from there!
The 2 minute part acapella gospel/country/folk rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” is another fun offering, as we are reminded through joyous proclamation that ‘…down in a lowly manger, a humble Christ was born, and God sent us salvation, that blessed Christmas morn…’– Bart’s infectious happiness is easy to transfer to the listener, as I am left tapping my toes and dancing to the rhythm and beat of this somewhat lesser-known carol. One of my favourite carols of all time, “Do You Hear What I Hear”, starts of mysteriously with plenty of keys and reverb included, as Bart fervently and passionately reminds us that ‘…a child, a child, sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light…’, then later swells with an epic crescendo to deliver an explosive worship anthem and one that could also double up as a worship song during the other 11 months of the year, as Bart eloquently asks ‘…can you hear the song of love ringing through the night, a baby’s cry, can you see that hope has come when you look inside this baby’s eyes, Emmanuel, Emmanuel, God is with us, God is with us…’.
Another enjoyable rendition of old favourites includes the 5 minute personal favourite “Joy”, a captivating keys and electric guitar mid-tempo medley of “Joy To The World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”. Once again metamorphosed into a big booming orchestral piece as the melody progresses, Bart passionately sings out a newly written bridge and with one song transforms this album from good to great. And the hymn like piano prominent album closer “O Come O Come”, sung to the tune of “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”, is indeed a strategic move that enhances the carol and gives the song and album overall extra depth, a fitting way to end a brilliant album.
MercyMe also include a trio of ‘non-Christian’ or ‘holiday’ songs if you will (“Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Sleigh Ride” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”), which are top notch quality music-wise, with saxophones, a 50’s and 60’s jazz vibe and a refrain of “Jingle Bells” in “Holly Jolly Christmas”; a movie soundtrack like nostalgic atmosphere and mid-tempo electric guitar riffs in “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”; and fascinating and charismatic acoustic guitars and a folk sound in “Sleigh Ride”. While the subject matter isn’t as life-affirming and life changing as other Christ centred melodies, these songs do in fact put us into the Christmas spirit, and remind us all that Christmas is a time for celebrating with family, and putting aside all of our differences. Yet it is the three all-original new songs that are sure to gain listeners attention and inspire us the most!
The time-warp flashback 80’s themed jazz inspired melody “Christmastime Again”, one of the band’s most musically ambitious melodies, with plenty of trumpets, trombones and other brass instruments, has the band passionately ad ardently praising Jesus, outlining that they can’t believe that it’s Christmas time again (complete with a stirring electric guitar solo), while the synth led mid tempo electronic melody “Hold On Christmas” is sung from the perspective of someone who is on the road, travelling to be with the family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, is stuck in traffic, and is hoping that they would arrive on time to celebrate with friends and family. While we all may have had that experience of arriving late for something that we and our families hold dear, we are reminded of the fact that Christmas is a universal holiday, and that our yearning to celebrate with friends and family on the actual day, elevates the importance of the national holiday as we eagerly anticipate spending time with family and catching up with those we haven’t seen in a long time. The final original Christmas song is the acoustic guitar folk/country lullaby “Our Lullaby”, and is musically different from the other two, because…well it’s a lullaby. It’s supposed to be soft, gentle, revering and reflective… Anyway, as Bart ardently sings out ‘…lullaby, let heaven and angels sing for you tonight…this is our lullaby, peace on Earth has finally arrived…’, we are reminded of Jesus’ birth, and are struck by the enormity and gravity of the situation, that we are saved because of a little baby boy. Well done MercyMe for a collection of carols and original Christmas tunes for us to enjoy and reflect upon this Christmas season!
Mercy Me It’s Christmas!, despite the somewhat cheesiness of the title, is well worth the 10 year wait in my opinion, and for me personally, this album is one of my favourite Christmas albums ever, since Michael W. Smith’s The Spirit Of Christmas last year. With a glut of singles and Dove Awards, never has MercyMe lost focused on who their ministry is about, with the band releasing singles such as “Shake”, “Greater”, and “Flawless”, to much praise and acclaim!
With a smorgasbord of genres encompassed in this holiday album, from pop rock to CCM to worship to folk, country and jazz, I can truly say that I cannot wait for MercyMe to release their new studio album- the band is that good! Definitely one of my favourite bands ever, MercyMe have crafted a fine effort, and one that I’d encourage all of you to purchase, or at least listen to this new Christmas project…well at least until Christmas albums from Chris Tomlin and Danny Gokey release!
3 songs to listen to: Newborn, Joy, Christmas Time Again
RIYL: Tenth Avenue North, Building 429, Casting Crowns, Big Daddy Weave