Release Date: October 29th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- It’s Been A Long, Long Time
- Wonderful Christmastime
- I Saw Three Ships
- All I Want For Christmas Is You (feat. Christina Perri) (Target Exclusive)
- Home For The Holidays
- Over The River (feat. Lindsey Stirling)
- The Prayer
- Frosty The Snowman (feat. Alessia Cara)
- I Just Called To Say I Love You
- Little Saint Nick
- It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
- My Heart With You
- We Wish You A Merry Christmas
Acapella has probably been, most likely is, and definitely will be, one of the most skilful and equally impressive crafts to master- in the music industry. What I believe is that with determination and with effort and with time; anyone can play the piano, guitar, or drums. And anyone can sing, with the right tutelage and determination. I reckon these talents can be taught and learnt. But acapella- making instrumental noises with your mouth and have it sound good, sound professional, sound album worthy… well that’s another level of brilliance in and of itself. As a site, there haven’t been that many acapella artists that have captured our attention and impressed us greatly. Apart from Peter Hollens (whom we blogged about here) and Pentatonix (who we blogged about here), I’d say that acapella genre of artists who are popular, respected and are either influential or becoming influential is rather bare. But for me, it only takes one artists or a couple of artists for me to fully enjoy and appreciate a genre. And for the specific genre of acapella, I have thoroughly enjoyed the discographies or both Peter Hollens and Pentatonix. There’s something about music that is different that captures your attention and imagination; and can make you feel emotions beyond your capabilities and comprehension. And that is what these artists have invoked in me over the years. But while Peter hasn’t released a full-length album since Legendary Covers Vol. 2: Inspire in October last year; Pentatonix on the other hand have been chugging along and have benefited the genre of acapella music through their new album The Lucky Ones. Released in February this year (as a standard edition and as a deluxe edition), we reviewed the album here and here, and greatly praised the ingenuity, creativity, heart and soul. I think we even gave it an almost perfect score.
Anyway, here we are in December 2021. The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is in full force waging war against everybody… and the world is still in shambles in relation to the ongoing Afghan war, the pulling out of officials from all nations concerning the Beijing Winter Olympics 2022, and still-rising COVID-19 cases, to name a few. The world couldn’t be in any more turmoil… and we’re just under two weeks out from Christmas. It’s the holiday season, people should be happy, we all should be in the Christmas spirit, putting up our tree, listening to carols and celebrating Jesus’ birth. Yet people are nonetheless crying out for help, for hope, for inspiration, for comfort and for reassurance. Well, what if I told you that hope and help can through the form of Pentatonix and their new album? Yes, indeed, these guys are back with a brand-new Christmas album (can it really be anything else?), called Evergreen. Pentatonix (comprising of Scott, Mitch, Kirstin, Matt and Kevin), at this stage, are the reigning champions of powerful, emotive, vulnerable and honest Christmas albums (with these guys having already recorded 4 full length Christmas albums prior to this one- We Need A Little Christmas, Christmas Is Here!, A Pentatonix Christmas, and That’s Christmas To Me); and when you listen to these albums, and read our reviews of Pentatonix Christmas albums here and here, and read Jon’s blog about them as well; well then I guess you will all understand and grasp the power and inspiration we all can feel, just from listening to a Christmas song from the kings and queens of acapella!
Before I voice my thoughts on Evergreen, let me just say this. 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… and you’d think that after releasing 4 Christmas albums, Pentatonix could follow suit. I mean, they would be tired of the genre, right? And thus, this album would be something that would require not much in-depth analysis. But contrary to what we all might think, or groan to ourselves, or complain out loud to our friends and family, Evergreen is bound to bring a smile to your faces, and have cleverly and skilfully recorded original Christmas songs, traditional holiday songs, and other obscure melodies, to create a positive, optimistic, cheerful and joyous holiday themed album that should be one of the first Christmas albums that we all should dive deep into this year. And of course… these guys also include some songs that aren’t Christmas songs anyway, but they Christmas-fy them anyway and guess what? They all turn out pretty awesome, I reckon!
A glance down the track list reveals many holiday songs, not many carols, and a seemingly money-grab plea for attention. However, let’s not bee too hasty, and please, let’s definitely not write off Evergreen, because their brand of Christmas, meshed with their brand of pop, is the kind of Christmas-y pop that is great all year round, and the kind that can indeed be revisited year after year without the feeling and the atmosphere being stale. “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”, suitable for these times we’re living in, is the album opener, and though not a Christmas song, is nevertheless touching and inspiring, as the quintet gorgeously transform this jazz melody into a timeless classic. “Wonderful Christmastime”, a Paul McCartney & Wings cover, but in my mind a song made famous by Jars Of Clay, is exquisitely covered here, as is the fun-filled “Frosty The Snowman”, sung with Alessia Cara. A song about a snowman shouldn’t be this enjoyable, but Alessia’s infectious joy rubs off on me here, and this track should soften even the hardest of hearts. “I Saw Three Ships”, surprisingly, is one of my favourites on this album, as this almost opera-like Christmas anthem is stylistically and sonically the polar opposite to the only cover I know- the punk cover from Hawk Nelson; and as Mitch leads this emphatic melody, we are presented with a song that subtly praises God, and a song that features 4-5 verses. Trust me, this is a track you don’t want to miss out on! “Little Saint Nick”, originally by The Beach Boys, is super chill, relaxing, and serene, as Scott leads this laid back powerful holiday song about Santa in the North Pole; while one of the obscure carols is “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”. Although I love Kutless’ version the best, Pentatonix creatively and passionately create a cover that I equally love. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” rounds up Evergreen, and though being overplayed this time of the year, still packs a punch, as the quintet beautifully create a melody worthy of multiple listens.
For Pentatonix, it wouldn’t be Christmas without some out-there, come-from-left-field type of covers, and Evergreen has them in spades. “Home For The Holidays”, a cover from Perry Como, emphasises the concept we all need to hear- the fact that we all long to be home for the holidays, and that spending time with loved ones during Christmas makes the world a little brighter and lighter. While Christina Perri joins Pentatonix on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, on the Target exclusive edition of the album. A melody that is timeless and iconic; no one could beat the original version, and covers from Newsboys and Marc Martel in my opinion come close. But for Pentatonix, their rendition is slightly more subdued, and adds a more haunting, reflective and contemplative depth to the track-list. “River”, originally recorded by Joni Mitchell, isn’t really supposed to be a Christmas song in the sense of other covers and carols, but ever since last year when Delta Goodrem covered this song on her Christmas album… I dunno, for some reason I found this song to sound more… Christmasy? Jackie Evancho covered “River” in 2020 also, and thus, listening to Kirsten, Mitch, Scott, Matt and Kevin sing in perfect harmony here in this song; well there’s nothing like it, don’t you think? “River” is an honorary Christmas song now, don’t you agree? “Over the River”, with Lindsey Stirling on violin and Kevin on cello, is a clear standout on Evergreen, as the group have created a near-flawless sonic masterpiece and an equally impressive picturesque music video; while Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You”, not a Christmas song, is given the Pentatonix Christmas treatment- not my absolute favourite here, but still a ballad that is powerful, compelling and inspiring, as the group sing about the sanctity and preciousness of love and the fact that we all need to have someone to love during the holidays. “My Heart With You”, originally by The Rescues, is a heart-warming, celebratory track about wanting to be close to your partner or significant other during the holidays- and this song does bring a smile to my face even though it isn’t technically a Christmas song.
“The Prayer” though, originally by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, is by far my favourite song from Evergreen, and this is why. It’s because there really isn’t a reason why you shouldn’t be familiar with probably the most iconic and popular song there ever has been. So, I’d say it’s time to rectify that situation. If it sounds like I’m harsh or overreacting, well then I’m sorry. But “The Prayer” is one in a million, and even if you do not like music in general, even if you do not like classical music, and even if you do not like the music of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli; I guarantee you will love this song. Even if you aren’t a Christian, and even if you aren’t a fan of Italian music- Andrea sings his parts in Italian; I’d still say that “The Prayer” will offer something of value to you. The song has been covered plenty of times, and I am sure will be many more times as well. As far as Pentatonix’s version on Evergreen; Scott and Mitch eloquently lead and deliver all of the lyrics with passion and zeal, while each of the five vocalists sing together beautifully in harmony also. In fact, can I say that this track is almost perfect? Every vocalist sounds sublime and I can say that I unequivocally enjoy this song. The spirit of God is upon this track for sure, and as I am transported to a magical place where nothing else in this world matter except for the out-of-this-world and heavenly vocals declaring ‘…let this be our prayer, when we lose our way, lead us to a place, guide us with Your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe…’; “The Prayer” is a song that I will hold in my heart forever, much like Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”. And though 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; Scott, Mitch, Matt, Kirstin and Kevin all make it easy with their the title track. “Evergreen”. A song of gratefulness and thankfulness and paying homage and tribute to their parents, this acoustic track speaks about letting the people closest in our lives know that they’re valued and loved and appreciated. It’s a track that is special to each of the members as well.
Scott: “Evergreen” is a very important song to us. It’s an original song about moms and how hard mothers work every single Christmas to make sure there is food on the table, to make sure there are our presents wrapped and everyone has the most joyous amazing time. And, you know, some moms don’t have as much as other moms but still work just as hard to make sure Christmas is memorable and special for their friends and family. I think everyone in Pentatonix feels that way about their moms and so the song makes me really emotional because I love my mom so much, I am a mama’s boy through and through.
Kirstin: My mother was a huge influence in my life and a huge reason of why I’m doing what I do so I just think it’s a really beautiful message and very special homage to all our mothers who supported us and allowed us to be able to go and fulfill our dreams.
Matt: The lyrics talks about “all the weight she carried she ain’t tired”, she gives up her dreams for our dreams and […] both my parents but specifically my mom would give up everything, always be there for me, always support me in any reading scripts and singing songs and so it’s really special to me because I love my mom so much.
Mitch: My mom and I have always been so close and just the things she’s done for the family and the love that she’s provided she turned her children into really, really loving people and she was an excellent role model to have growing up.
So there you have it. 44 minutes of sheer musical genius and an album that is well and truly for the ages. Never mind that Pentatonix have recorded 4 previous Christmas albums… Evergreen proves that there’s more for these guys to mine within the confines of the Christmas genre. Evergreen is captivating and powerful as the quintet delve into the Christmas season with professionalism, heart, joyfulness and a sense of reflection that I have not seen and heard since for KING & COUNTRY’s A Drummer Boy Christmas. The Christmas story is timeless, and though there aren’t that many carols represented here, songs like “The Prayer”, “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “I Saw Three Ships” remind us that God is working all the time- we just need to sometimes sit up and take more notice. Pentatonix and Evergreen do not scream out the immutable truth of Jesus from the rooftops; but the truth is in fact still on display here- 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 marvel at the wonder of how great Pentatonix is as a group… 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 powerful and exquisite Christmas albums of the year? Well done, Pentatonix; Kirstin, Matt, Mitch, Scott and Kevin should be proud of themselves, and I cannot wait for the next all new original studio album, whenever that may be!
4 songs to listen to: I Saw Three Ships, Over The River, The Prayer, Evergreen
RIYL: Little Mix, Tauren Wells, Peter Hollens, Hollyn, Carly Rae Jepsen