VARIOUS : The Greatest Gift of All. (Elevation : ELE2187D)
This Cd is marketed as “Twelve new songs for Christmas ideal for singing in schools, churches, seasonal productions and to raise awareness of the amazing project Operation Christmas Child which sends shoeboxes to children all over the world”. With all that in mind, I’ve got to say that some of the songs are a little too complicated for younger children. I would say that early teens would benefit from this album that features a multiple of styles. “All the Angels Sing” is one of those bouncy children’s songs that you’ve heard dozens of times before. A simple tune makes the song sound very happy, so I guess it does the job well. There’s a more contemporary sound to “Star Bright”, while I really enjoyed the ballad that is the title track. Doug Horley and Mark Read provide the songwriting credits for “No Ordinary Baby” – again, with a happy singalong chorus. Christmas bells are chiming during “Can You Imagine”, alongside a simple banjo sound, while Becky Frith’s “Christmas Time” tries to get everyone dancing, with uptempo beats and loud synth’ phrases. Backing tracks are available for all the songs, and that will obviously prove useful for those who do want to use new songs this festive time. 6/10.
TERRY HOLLOMAN : DNA Transformation. (Provident)
This is Terry Holloman’s debut album. The innovative keyboard driven project is a fusion of Bethel style soaking worship sounds, mellow jazz, Windham Hill-esqe piano with touches of techno and urban influence. The instrumental album, with occasional vocal layering is a perfect backdrop for worship, quiet study, or prayer but with enough movement for dance, and as a soundtrack for the rhythms of everyday life. She says; “It is my prayer that this project penetrates the heart of the listener, and brings them to another place, a deeper connection with God”. The album has 6 pieces of music and starts with “Take You In”. There are various sampled sounds and repeated vocals, such as “Breathe on Me.” “Deeper Further” is the most uplifting track, with a pleasing tune that I enjoyed. Imagine raindrops falling, or shards of glass, and you may be able to imagine the sounds that start “DNA Transformation.” The title is vocally repeated several times over some warm, synth’ pa’s which I found to be quite soothing. Indeed, Terry seems to have achieved what she set out to do. Listening to these sounds, I found it quite easy to drift off into meditation and prayer. “Heaven’s Invasion” is a tune that consists of piano and atmospheric sounds, plus occasional crashing percussion. Both “Morning Flow” and “Preparing the Way” follow similar make up, with the whole thing coming in at around 35 minutes. An interesting and enterprising release. 7/10.
OUT OF THE ASHES : Fear, Secrets and Lies. (Resound Media : RMCD160002)
Following on from their much talked about “Love Can Be a Bumpy Road,” Kevin Washburn and Penny Lyon are back with an album of jazz, gospel and blues numbers. I really like Penny’s vocals, as they always sound so clear and crisp. That formulae is evident throughout and begins with the song “Wake Up.” There’s some bright guitar sounds, as well as brass, on an instantly likeable track. “Tipped Off the Table” gets a funky jazz treatment, while the gospel swing of “Back to you” features a distinctive piano solo. The title track tells how the devil can try to turn your thoughts with “Fears, Secrets and Lies.” It’s a cracking song and well produced. “do That Thing You Do” and “Crazy Love” didn’t quite do it for me, but the bluesy “It’s a Through Road” gets things back on track. It’s a song about the well-worn adage of choosing between living a material or a Godly life, and the message comes across well. The second half of the album is really strong, although the piano and acoustic guitar backed “So Silently” is such a pretty little number. “Pole, Pole” ( Swahili, meaning “take it slow”) is quite infectious, and a I really enjoyed the inclusion of an accordion here. “Blackbird” is one of those songs that stick around in your head for hours after hearing it. There’s an Africana feel to it, as Penny’s singing focuses on revival. Finally, there’s a short Southern Gospel song called “I’ll Go Where You Go.” A mention, here, goes to Charlie Bunting for some rousing violin playing. Continuing from their last release, Out of the Ashes serve up some tasty tracks. 8/10.
PAUL BALOCHE : Christmas Worship Vol.2. (Absolute : B00ZGJ85V6)
This second volume of Christmas songs sees Paul Baloche sing various festive tunes, and marries some of them up with more modern hymns. The acoustic “Joy to the World” is a fine opening song. “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gets the ‘marriage’ treatment, paring it with “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord.” Later on “The First Noel” is matched up with a favourite song of mine “Above All.” Despite this, it still did sound rather strange listening to the two songs linked together. There’s a nice duet on “O Holy Night”, while “Gloria” is a typical modern praise song that praises God in the highest. For me, a little like Paul’s other recent recordings, his singing style is rather lethargic, and I found myself getting rather bored by the middle of the album. However, “Silent Night” features some nice guitar phrases, and there’s a wistful female vocal of the closing “When Love Crossed Over.” If you want a modern take on traditional carols, you may well enjoy this release. Personally, I wasn’t too impressed. 5/10.
PAUL BALOCHE : Christmas Worship Vol. 1 (Integrity : B00FPO611S)
This album was actually released back in 2013 and has since seen the release of a follow up, Christmas Worship 2 in 2015. Most of the songs are written by Paul, with homages to Christmas classics contained within. For instance, “Angels We have Heard on High (Deo)” features the Gloria chorus from “Ding Dong Merrily on High”. However there are also contributions from other artists such as Kathryn Scott, who co-wrote “This is Love” and also sings it with Paul as a duet. There are also some “Christmas Versions” of previously released songs such as “Your Name” and “What Can I Do”. These work well enough, although I’m not sure I entirely like the idea of re-writing existing songs just for Christmas. My favourite is “Follow that Star” as it has an edge to it that I would normally associate with an artist like Paul. There’s also a good rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, a song that’s always ripe for experimentation and creativity. There is some great acoustic guitar work on the album and some clever integration of old and new however, the album is a little bit flat for me. The songs mentioned aside, the remainder do sound a little generic and feel like they are fitting a stereotype of what a Christmas song should sound like rather than aiming for something creatively different. It’s that “edge” I mentioned earlier. I kind of hoped it would present itself more frequently, but it doesn’t, so I can’t help but feel it’s a bit of an opportunity missed. 6/10 Robin Thompson.
FRIENDS OF CEDAR CHURCH BIRMINGHAM : Love is the Heart of Christmas Time. (www.cedar.church)
Along with his wife Sarah, Andrew Kisumba ministers at the Cedar Church in Birmingham, UK, and is the songwriter behind this festive song. He says; “Christmas can be a sad, lonely, tense and uncertain time for many people around the world. [But] for 2016 years and counting, [God’s] truth has continued to bring hope, joy and freedom to countless souls. Over the ages, a vast array of Christmas traditions have developed around the globe, but if you reach into the season you will find love is the heart of Christmas time.” And there we have the theme of this single release. Sung and produced in the style of Mary Mary, it’s a gospel song that captures the essence of what Christmas should be. The lead female vocalist has a great voice and it’s complimented by an excellent choir. There’s a melodic tune and easy to learn chorus, and numerous traditional carols get a name check. Mind you, I had to smile at the line that says; “Don’t mind Mariah Carey blaring everywhere you go.” The CD version comes with the full version of the song, plus radio, instrumental, and backing track edits. The latter is especially useful if you’d like to sing a new song in church this Christmas. 8/10.