A very tall elf once said, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." This Christmas, there is a large group of artists wanting to spread the cheer. Jumping in on the action are our friends from down under, Hillsong. Since living on the other side of the equator, their holiday season is during the summer and is without a doubt different than the typical American-wintery-wishing for a white Christmas. With that, they give listeners a taste of an Australian Christmas with Born is the King.
The album opens with the instrumental "The Westward Procession." The music sets a beautiful tone reminiscent of an orchestra warming up before the performance takes off. This transitions beautifully into "Joy to the World." As this song is a typical Christmas cover, I wasn't expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised by the care and interpretation that was taken with the song. Approaching the song with a folk-like cadence are the gentle plucks from a banjo and the soft beat of the drums, while vocally it is not overdone and the melody is kept intact. Thus, the song is honored but interpreted wonderfully. "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" are given similar treatments as they are kept soft and do not diverge from the traditional song much. This is a good thing as any musical changes they've made serve as icing on the cake and only enhance the songs.
Translated with more of an open hand is "We Three Kings." Acoustically driven and vocally flowing in and out of falsetto, the song is one of the more creative approaches to the classic carol. Melodically, it slightly hints of Eastern influences that could be found in Bollywood, which makes the song come alive in a different way. Whether that was Hillsong's intention or not is unknown, but regardless, it's a very well done rendition of the carol. "O Come Let Us Adore Him" is given a worshipful overhaul that only Hillsong could give - even creating an additional chorus between verses that seems to make the song more Sunday morning friendly for churches.
Now as for the original songs, it's always a risk but one that must be taken. In the traditional sense of an American Christmas, "Born is the King" is very different. Those who desire the antithesis of a "White Christmas" will find what they need in this song. It has a very island-tropical melody with the childlike fun you'd find on a Nickelodeon cartoon for toddlers. For me personally, I try to forget the heat and only desire cold weather during Christmas. "Emmanuel" is a worship song through and through, and honestly could be sung any time of the year. For churches looking for those kinds of songs for services, this track is sure to be a hit.
Overall, this Christmas project is one that people may purchase just because it's Hillsong and others will pass on just because it's Hillsong. I will say that it does have something to offer this holiday season, but the downside is that it's only eight tracks long and doesn't have the classic American holiday feel. Some may love that, while others want to keep it traditional. Nevertheless, there is something great about knowing that people around this big world are singing Christmas songs in their very own ways, and that is something to celebrate. Happy Christmas.
- Review date: 11/4/11, written by Ryan Barbee of Jesusfreakhideout.com