Release Date: October 2nd 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Joy To the World/Our God Saves (feat. All Sons And Daughters)
- For Unto Us a Child Is Born/Open The Eyes Of My Heart
- Angels From The Realms Of Glory/Emmanuel
- O Holy Night/Love Shines Bright (feat. Kathryn Scott)
- Gloria (feat. Phil Wickham)
- What Child Is This/Praise Emmanuel (feat. Gina Milne)
- It Came Upon A Midnight Clear/Glorious (feat. Onajé Jefferson)
- The Newborn King (Feat. Graham Kendrick)
- The First Noel/Above All (feat. Lenny LeBlanc)
- Silent Night (feat. Rita Baloche and David Baloche)
- Silent Night (Guitar Reprise)
- When Love Crossed Over (feat. Madison Cunningham)
There’s a growing trend I have recently discovered over the past few years- despite many Christmas albums still releasing around September, October and November, many months before Christmas (of which many people could be annoyed about…), I find myself still drawn to Christmas music even before the season starts officially. Maybe it’s because I am reviewing Christmas music, but regardless, I still am blessed and ministered to, even when I’m listening to Christmas music at random and obscure times of the year. Even though other critics believe that it’s too early to be thinking about the day of December 25th; I myself have come to realise that Christmas stuff being introduced a few months prior to Christmas is just a fact of life, and have embraced the idea that is sure to stay for many years to come. So now, let’s delve into Paul Baloche’s second Christmas effort, titled Christmas Worship 2, produced by Paul and Michael Rossback, the follow up from 2013’s Christmas Worship, which released earlier this month.
Renowned for his live albums capturing his heart for Jesus, Paul Baloche has been in the Christian music industry for the past 20 plus years, with hits such as “Open The Eyes Of My Heart”, “Above All”, “Offering”, “Shout For Joy”, “The Same Love”, “King OF Heaven”, “Your Name” and “Hosanna” all generating much love and critical acclaim amongst listeners and reviewers alike. A true pioneer in worship music, Paul’s albums, and accessible songs sung in many churches around the world, have changed many lives. Most of his albums are in a live setting, apart from his re recordings on The Writers Collection and the 2012 album The Same Love, yet for this holiday record, Paul returns back to his live worship roots, with 12 new worship themed Christmas offerings ranging from simple, no-nonsense original Christ centred Christmas songs, some re-recorded Christmas versions of his hit singles, and traditional Christmas carols. With plenty of guest vocals and co-writes here for variety, as well as medleys to keep us interested too, for me Paul has raised the bar higher than ever on Christmas Worship, which I am sure has the potential to be a classic worship album in 10 or so years. Yep you can definitely listen to this album at any time of the year!
On almost every Christmas album, a few ‘mainstream’ carols are covered, ranging from “Jingle Bells”, “Sleigh Ride”, “Deck The Halls” to “White Christmas”, “Silver Bells” and the most covered-to-death “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. However, mainstream offerings on Paul’s album aren’t present at all. In fact, mot than many of these tracks are traditional carols; as most of them are either original songs not heard before, or some of Paul’s previous songs with Christmas verses or choruses added in. with 7 out of the 12 melodies being worship melodies, it’s quite easy to be immersed in these kind of songs, worshipping Jesus, and forgetting that Christmas is in fact coming closer than we think. Covering “Joy To The World” as the album opener (also featured on Paul’s previous Christmas album, which was blended with Lincoln Brewster’s hit “Shout For Joy”), this new rendition is moulded together with “Our God Saves”, featuring All Sons And Daughters on guest vocals; and is sung in an subdued manner (as opposed to rock and roll on the previous album, with light acoustic guitar being at the forefront! Including numerous verses of the popular carol, Paul utilises the similar tempos of the songs very professionally and skilfully; and makes the medley his own, ardently declaring that ‘…our God saves, our God saves, there is hope in Your name…’, beautifully encapsulating the bridge of “Our God Saves” into the medley as well. Another heartfelt and poignant melody is the piano prominent and guitar led mid-tempo folk melody “For unto Us a Child Is Born”, combined with the smash hit “Open the Eyes of My Heart”. With the verses of the new song being the Christmas carol, segued into the chorus of the emphatic worship anthem, relaying that we want to ‘…see You high and lifted up, shining in the light of Your glory, pour out our power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy…’; the presence of strings and an epic, grand orchestral finish heightens my enjoyment of the song immensely!
“Angels from the Realms of Glory” is next, a hymn like electric guitar worship anthem highlighting that we all should worship God as He is holy and perfect, worship of every praise we could possibly give Him. The song then shifts gears with the inclusion of the chorus and bridge of “Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)”, possibly my most favourite Paul Baloche song ever, which is definitely a joy to listen to, praising God, asking Him to ‘…come have Your way among us, we welcome You here Lord Jesus…’. “O Holy Night”, easily my most favourite Christmas carol ever, is expertly infused and combined with the chorus of an original anthem “Love Shine Bright” (in my opinion, soon to be a classic!), with the orchestral and magical mid-tempo atmosphere creating a compelling and enjoyable rendition of this well-known and popular carol. Kathryn Scott’s vocals as she sings with Paul, is absolutely divine and angelic as well, as this song is one of the album highlights.
Driven by vibrant acoustic guitar, Paul moves into the edgy acoustic rock in the mid-tempo “What Child Is This”, with Paul outlining that we can ‘…raise, raise a song on high, the virgin sings a lullaby, joy, hoy for Christ is born, the babe the Son of Mary…’, and then later segues into a quicker version of the timeless classic “Praise Adonai”, which in my opinion at first sounds a bit disconnected (but maybe this unusual medley can grow over time for me!). Though Gina Milne’s vocals on this track is quite stunning and enjoyable and gives the song extra depth. While the tempo is also changed for the medley of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “Glorious”, another personal album highlight. Thematically reminding that God is sovereign, is holy, and is worth our glorious devotion and adoration to Him; Paul’s passion here cannot be denied, and I find myself ardently and fervently crying out in unison and agreement alongside Paul! Onajé Jefferson from The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir gives this song a soulful/gospel vibe and that’s a nice touch too, that’s a bit different yet welcomed all the same.
Given that most of these carols are mid-tempo or quite energetic and jovial, it’s nice to be introduced to some slower paced ballads at the back end of the album, with the medley of “The First Noel” and “Above All” (intricately and extensively woven in together seamlessly) as well as the penultimate track “Silent Night”. Led by light electric guitars, Paul passionately declares alongside Lenny LeBlanc, that Jesus was born in Israel, therefore He is worthy of our praises for that simple fact alone. Lenny’s vibrant and enthusiastic voice in the worship song he helped co-write is quite brilliant and sublime as well! The acoustic guitar and light percussion driven album closer “Silent Night” (with wife Rita and son David on guest vocals) is one of the few songs that stays close to the ‘original’ (which is an unexpected by welcome development!), as Paul relays in soothing and captivating vocals the fact that Jesus indeed needed His rest the night He was born, as Paul sings to Him ‘…sleep in Heavenly peace…Christ the Saviour is born…Jesus Lord at Thy birth…’, fitting given that whenever we as believers need rest and sleep, we can turn to Jesus Himself to give us comfort and peace.
Reimagining their smash hit from many years ago, Paul and good friend Graham Kendrick transform the guitar led “Creation’s King” into the guitar led God breathed “Newborn King”, a personal highlight on the album, as we passionately and ardently cry out, praising Jesus, outlining that Jesus deserves ‘…blessing, honour, glory, power, to the newborn King, songs of earth and songs of Heaven, join as one to bring…’; while the newly penned worship anthem “Gloria” (a comglomoration of many Christmas carols including “Silent Night”, “Angels We Have Heard On High” as well as Paul’s smash hit “Today”!), is simple lyrically and musically, as Paul majestically and emphatically proclaims that Jesus is King, that we can sing ‘…Gloria, Gloria, glory in the highest Jesus…’. The addition of Phil Wickham on guest vocals is pretty cool as well. But no song in my opinion can compare to the album ender “When Love Crossed Over”.
Beautifully and expertly recorded, Paul takes the reins of backing vocals this time, as Madison Cunningham shines vocally, and has me asserting by song’s end that she will be a future rising worship leader and star in the industry for many years to come. Sung in the same melody as “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”, this overtly original Christmas song depicting Jesus’ birth and what it means for us as Christians and for our salvation, this song is a must listen, just to be encouraged, and so that we can have our faith reaffirmed. Actually this whole album is Holy Spirit anointed, and worth plenty more listens in the future!
To sum up, these 12 songs, masterpieces, and works of art that Paul Baloche has recorded, with his friends who have sung with him or co-written with him, are truly breathed from the Almighty. For me, I love original Christmas songs, as well as Christmas twists on previous original tracks, so for Paul to show us both of these variants of Christmas music, is a treat! A work of art, nothing short of amazing! I’m not sure how many more years Paul will keep making music for (let’s hope it’s many, many more), but let me tell you that his quality of his work, of his God-praising songs have only increased over time. So what are you waiting for? Paul Baloche’s Christmas Worship 2 is my favourite Christmas album of the year! Well done Paul, you truly deserve all the praise!
3 songs to listen to: Gloria, The Newborn King, When Love Crossed Over
RIYL: Leeland, Jesus Culture, Hillsong Worship, Michael W Smith, Kari Jobe