Christmas music is one of the most treasured gifts of the holiday season. It can recapture those feelings you know and love so well and return you to that joyful, childlike wonder you experienced when life seemed a whole lot simpler. As music fans, one may begin to wonder what some of their favorite musicians might be able to bring to this Christmas tradition. Typically, we expect these artists to take a stab at some of our most beloved carols, while also expecting them to bring along a little of their own personal flair in the process. When listening to music from a multi-talented singer/songwriter like Sarah Kelly, it's easy to wonder what the eclectic artist might bring to the proverbial Christmas table. The end result may not exactly be what one might expect, which in a way, is exactly what we can come to expect from Sarah.
While that last statement is indeed a bit paradoxical, Sarah tends to shy away from doing the same thing twice. A quick listen through her four full-length solo albums as well as a couple acoustic EPs along the way, will prove this to be true. Sarah is a multi-sided, multi-dimensional artist. Personally, I had been pondering what Sarah Kelly might bring to the Christmas season in a musical fashion a mere day or two before learning that she was already in the process of recording a brand new holiday EP. The end result came rather quickly and what we have is the Christmas - Acoustic EP. For this project, Sarah takes three classic tunes, gives them each a unique spin, and then caps off the 15-minute offering with an original she cowrote with Kristine Wildman, one of her students at the Sarah Kelly Music School in The Woodlands, TX. After giving the release several listens, I can say that Christmas music, Sarah Kelly style, wasn't quite what I imagined it to be (Perhaps I pictured more pensive and intimate arrangements like her songs "How Much You Love," "Remember You Well" or even "Midnight Sun"?), but the fact that she's given the familiar songs unexpected treatments is exactly the kind of thing that Sarah does ("Amazing Grace," anyone?).
Each of the three covered classics feature some curveballs thrown into the mix. "What Child Is This" opens the EP and sets the tone with a reimagined arrangement. A fast, steady drum beat and piano rhythm lead things off in a similar fashion to how Seabird recently updated the classics on their project Over the Hills and Everywhere. However, as the listener begins to embrace this new take, a soulful harmonica solo kicks in two-thirds of the way in, bringing a bizarre and not all that Christmassy twist to this version; her new take on the song was probably enough of an update of the tune before unwrapping that little surprise. A lovely piano melody leads into "O Come, All Ye Faithful," which at first appears to retain most of the original's composition, but after the introduction, a drum beat signals a shift in its arrangement. Overall, it may hold up the best of the three carols. "O Holy Night," an annual favorite, seems perfect for Sarah's rich vocal power. However, the final wrench in the works comes in the form of a guest vocalist, Charlie Hines, the Worship leader at Cincinnati Vineyard. Hines proves to have strong pipes as well, but his style is more gospel in nature and seems to clash with Sarah's distinct flavor. In the end, I really wished the track would have been delivered solely by Kelly.
"Sweet Serenity," the EP's lone original, is presented more as the intimate piano ballad I expected from Sarah for a project like this one. While it doesn't bear a distinct Christmas vibe, lyrics centered on God's gift of His Son to us, along with a fitting "Hallelujah" chorus and "Glory to God in the highest" verse, make the song an appropriate one for a holiday offering.
Nitpicks aside, Sarah Kelly's first Christmas - Acoustic EP may not be the project her fans were expecting, but in the end, it's still refreshing to hear something a little different during a time when it's not very difficult to find so much more of the same. Perhaps we'll hear more holiday offerings from Sarah in the near future, but until then, Christmas - Acoustic EP is still worth a peek.- Review date: 12/4/11, written by John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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