Christmas is an epic story and celebration that the Western World (including, alas, many church-going folks) keep trying to make simply a cozy one. This is not to say there isn't a place for "Jingle Bells," Christmas movies (like the wonderful ELF or It's A Wonderful Life) or festive pajamas. It's just that the message of Christmas, the ancient world-changing event that is at the heart of things, can often get drowned in holiday cheer, shopping, wrapping paper and hot cocoa.
Chris Tomlin has never released a cover of "Jingle Bells" or "Frosty The Snowman," and when it comes to the Advent season, he keeps his music squarely on where his calling as an artist is: vertical worship. His two previous Christmas worship albums, Adore and Glory In The Highest, are logical, thematic, and stylistic extensions of his whole body of work (going on more than twenty years now). His latest, Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live), continues this theme with a batch of new songs, a few Christmas carol covers, and a number of guest stars adding to the mix.
Opener "Emmanuel God With Us" shows Tomlin's trademark easy way with a melody and is a highlight of the set right off the bat. With a worshipful, Noel-centric lyric, Tomlin keeps the focus right where it belongs - Jesus: "Go tell it on the mountain / The one that we've been waiting for / The king of our salvation / Born on this day our savior Christ the Lord / Go tell it on the mountain / Over the hills and everywhere / That we can be forgiven / The weight of all our sin He came to bear / Emmanuel, God with us / Emmanuel, King Jesus / The Savior of the world is born / Emmanuel, God with us / Emmanuel, King Jesus / The Savior of the world is born."
Second track, the equally epic and tuneful "Christmas Day," also places the focus squarely on the Christ child and features a wonderful orchestral part that lifts the tune to a majestic place. The following "All The World Awaits (Hosanna)" continues the thematic arc.
Fourth track, the soulful gospel music-flavored "Hallelujah," features a wonderful lead vocal by blind gospel singer Blessings Offor and serves to change the mood and tempo a bit before Tomlin offers a new take on the classic American poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day," that Tomlin welds to one of his trademark choruses, giving the poem (written in the sad days of the American Civil War) a resonance in our current troubled time.
Much of the rest of the album feels a bit like filler compared to the opening volley of songs, with a few standard Christmas carols and hymns mixed together. "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is nicely done, but another cover of "O Holy Night" and "Little Town Of Bethlehem" seem a little forced and rote.
Chris Tomlin certainly is true to his calling as a worship leader, and Emmanuel: Christmas Songs Of Worship (Live) is certainly worthy of adding to the ol' Christmas playlist and should be celebrated for keeping the focus entirely on the most epic story ever told.- Review date: 12/3/21, written by Alex Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Sparrow Records
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