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Release Date: October 4th 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Phil Wickham – Christmas (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing
- Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful)
- Away in a Manger (Forever Amen)_
- Angels We Have Heard on High
- This Year for Christmas
- Star of Wonder
- The Christmas Waltz
- Face of God
- What Child is This
- We Wish You (A Merry Peaceful, Wonderful Christmas)
Phil Wickham is by far one of my favourite worship leaders/artists, alongside others like Paul Baloche, Tim Hughes, Meredith Andrews, Matt Maher and Kari Jobe. In fact, Phil could actually be a revolutionary, and pioneer of the modern worship music genre (if ever there is one at all!), alongside others like Crowder (or as he once was, David Crowder*Band), Delirious? (and even Martin Smith now!), The Sonflowerz, All Sons and Daughters and more recently Rend Collective and UNITED, all of whom have taken a stand to deliver worship songs and music that doesn’t necessarily quite fit the mould of it being worship music to begin with…and that’s ok. You’ve noticed that I’ve ‘forgotten’ to include Chris Tomlin there in the list…it’s not because I don’t love his music, it’s just that much of his music can be musically safe and not that artistically inclined…which is ok, but sometimes when I want to hear music, I want to hear something that stretches my own concepts of what worship music is and what it should be, verses what I have always believed it was from the beginning- and sadly, Chris Tomlin doesn’t really do that. Nevertheless, Phil’s music is a great start for anyone who loves worship music in general; and want to hear something that isn’t necessarily that tight to the confines of radio-friendly music. Sure, his music is congregational, but still there’s enough there for Phil to go outside the lines of what is considered ‘worship’ music; and deliver something that on the surface doesn’t sound much like something you’d sing in church, but when looking at a deeper level, you definitely could.
Phil’s most recent studio album Living Hope dropped digitally in August 2018, to much commercial and critical acclaim, with songs like ‘Great Things’, ‘Living Hope’, ‘Till I Found You’, ‘Christ is Risen’ and ‘How Great is Your Love’ (to name a few) being standouts on arguably one of my favourite worship albums of 2018. Now here in 2019, Phil is at it again, this time a Christmas album simply and aptly titled Christmas. With familiar songs in the form of carols, alongside familiar songs written and recorded by other artsts prior, Phil’s new collection of songs that are used as a primary tool to facilitate worship whilst in this Christmas season, is great if you enjoy Phil and his music, or if you love worship music with a rock/EDM edge.
Standing at 10 songs, Phil’s new collection of songs for Christmas, be it hymns, Christmas carols or brand new ones, all serve one purpose- to place Jesus on the map during a season where He is often forgotten and overlooked, for whatever the case. Both ‘Face of God’ and ‘Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful)’ have been recorded by Shane and Shane in 2018 for their Christmas album project, and thus here are the songs again, this time recorded by Phil and arranged a little differently. Nevertheless, the songs themselves are good- ‘Face of God’ was written and sung song about what could’ve been the response of Mary, the wisemen and the shepherds as they stared and witnessed the face of God being brought into humanity; Phil’s new song is indeed something special, and maybe, just maybe, the song can be redone without the Christmas influence and Phil himself can rer-ecord the song at a later date? Regardless, ‘Face of God’ continues to become one of my favourite originally written Christmas songs over the last couple of years. ‘Joy to the World (Joyful Joyful)’ is the other remaining track that we all know prior to the release of this album. Originally released on Shane and Shane’s Christmas EP last year, this radio single has in fact caught me by surprise in a good way. And according to JFH, ‘…’Joy To The World’ may be my favorite song for Christmas in terms of lyrics. It’s just so beautifully written. There is s o much joy and declaration of what God had done to enter into our darkness, bringing joy and light and peace. It’s been amazing to go live into the studio and bring it to life; and envision what I always wanted it to be.…’
Throughout the rest of the album, Phil continues to give to us carols and originally written Christmas songs to deliver melodies that are easy-to-sing and worshipful during this season where we reflect upon the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, the first song on the album, features more of an acoustically driven sound as Phil relays how the angels must’ve felt on that day when Jesus was born, and how they were just declaring and praising the fact that He did arrive to us, not a moment too late or soon, but right on time. With the piano at the forefront, ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ alters the chorus and its melody, thereby giving a fresh outlook on a beloved carol, while ‘Star of Wonder’ utilises electronic keyboard noises and translates the chorus of ‘We Three Kings’ (star of wonder, star of light, star with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light) and builds an entire song being this stanza. ‘What Child is This’ is your very standard fare of how the song would go, regardless of who sings it, as Phil showcases the acoustic guitar front and centre, while songs like ‘The Christmas Waltz’ and ‘We Wish You (A Merry, Peaceful, Wonderful Christmas) brings songs of yesterday to the front, with ‘The Christmas Waltz’ being a cover of a Frank Sinatra song back in the day, while ‘We Wish You (A Merry, Peaceful, Wonderful Christmas)’…well, everyone knows that song right? Which brings me to ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘This Year For Christmas’, two of the personal standouts for me (alongside ‘Face of God’) from the album. ‘Away in a Manger’ sounds like your normal song to begin with, but then when it comes to the second and third verses, Phil adds in a worshipful flavour to it, something that may be frowned upon because it’s tinkering with the sacred nature of the hymns of long ago, but for me, I find the altered lyrics refreshing- ‘…the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, the dawn of salvation beginning to break, I love thee Lord Jesus oh gift from above, the king of the heavens forever with us…’, and a way to see a old song in a new light, and be excited about Christmas carols once again as I’m sure people were back in the day when they were written. ‘This Year For Christmas’ however is I reckon the song that will resonate the most with the most amount of people- it, dare I say, is the Christmas version of Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You’. A song that Phil himself wrote for his wife, we are reminded through this heartfelt song that relationships are indeed much more important than presents and things, and a song like this ought to keep up thinking about what is important during this December season amongst all the hustle, bustle and busyness.
Over the last decade and a half or so (his first studio album Give Me The World was an independent one made in 2003), Phil continues to present poignant songs of praise and perseverance as this new set of songs- that are fit and primed for the holiday season which is Christmas (alongside his most recent studio album Living Hope), are some of the most emotive and energetic I’ve ever heard Phil perform in his whole career. In fact, he has created albums upon albums of hits in the past, and he’s even created a Christmas album in the past as well. And so Christmas is no different. Whether you are a fan of Christmas music, or if you’re a fan of Phil’s music previously, or if you are a fan of worship music in general, this album is something you ought to check out- at least once. One of the most vulnerable and powerful collection of Christmas songs I’ve heard this year, this new Christmas album continues to remind us, if there’s never been enough reminders already; of the ever-needed presence of Phil within the CCM industry- the worship music industry is enhanced by Phil and his continued and proven music, now more than ever! Well done Phil for such a grounded and emotive Christmas album, looking forward to the next official album release, whenever that may be!
3 songs to listen to: Star of Wonder, Face of God, Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful)
RIYL: Kristian Stanfill, Bethel Music, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Crowder