ALBUMS: ‘Christmas Songs’ and ‘Somethin’ About Christmas’
ARTISTS: Penny & Sparrow and Kris Allen
It’s that time of year again, folks: turkeys are running for cover, cowl-neck sweaters are a “thing” again, Will Ferrell’s yellow tights are flashing across thousands of livingroom TV’s, and hopefully – beneath it all – there’s a sense of joyful anticipation in the air, a feeling of quiet magnitude. A sense of salvation groaning in the ground, even as it is blanketed with snow.
With that in mind, I’m excited to share some thoughts on two albums that pertain to Advent/Christmas.
Penny & Sparrow’s Christmas Songs features 11 traditional Christmas songs, all hymns with the exception of We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It is an austere, effective production – each song is recreated with a light touch and reverence for original intention. A crackly, old-timey warmth transports you to a dim, fire-lit living room in the 1940s, when things moved slower and people made eye contact more often: when it was understood that everyone would be eating Christmas dinner together. Silent Night is especially evocative of this retrospective sentiment, with Andy Baxter’s clear, masculine voice telling the tale of the sleeping Word as a shimmery organ pulses solemnly behind him. (Any minute George Bailey is going go berserk over ZuZu’s petals.You can just feel it.)
The whole set of songs is stripped down and straightforward (save for an unusual rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful, which is oddly intense and bumpy: think Manheim Steamroller meets Sufjan Stevens meets an 8th grade band camp). I can’t say for sure it’s been recorded using analog equipment, but it has that tone and atmosphere. Baxter’s enunciation is piercing, as always, and he makes beautiful use of space and silence in order to emphasize the gravity of ancient words. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming is my favorite on the album for this reason.
These songs speaks for themselves, and these two men know that. There’s no need to dress-up something that’s already beautiful: what’s needed is good lighting and an attentive heart that knows how to appreciate the greatest story ever told. Penny & Sparrow have a gift in their musicality that is both illuminating and transporting. Turn the brain-rot device off and soak in this sepia-toned collection of Advent tunage.
The other album I listened to was Kris Allen’s Somethin’ About Christmas, which is a collection of bluesy, beachy pop Christmas tunes – with the exception of the closing hymn Silent Night. Fans of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Jingle Bells, and Winter Wonderland will likely be delighted by Allen’s faithful interpretations of these chirpy tunes, as he stays within the lines (but never sounds bored or forced). I was thankful for his take on Jingle Bells, which is typically frenetic to the point of significant hair-loss with each relentless shake of the bells: Allen’s take is a laid-back country-swing style, in which upright bass takes the sultry lead. Doo-wop vibes (Baby Won’t You Wait), folk-pop vibes (Here Comes Santa Claus), and Thomas Kinkade vibes (Peace and Happiness) all coexist rather mellowly on this album: production is clean, warm, and simple. The songs are light-hearted and predictable, but Allen’s voice (the highlight of the album) makes each one satisfying and replayable, particularly if spiked eggnog is making the rounds.
May the peace of Christ dwell with you richly this Advent season.