Don Moen 'Christmas: A Season of Hope' Album Review
Prime Cuts: Season of Hope, My Christmas Prayer, O Have Ye Not Known/Good Christian Man Rejoice
Don Moen is one of the original architects of Praise and Worship music. Way before Hillsong, Jesus Culture, Bethel Live and Matt Redman, Moen has already been advocating the fact that songs directed to God in the first person have a vital place in contemporary Christian music. To such a lofty and holy end, Moen has pioneered to give churches their songbooks of tunes where the young would not be embarrassed and the matured would not be neglected. Moen has done the Kingdom of God a great service where he became the creative director of Integrity Music. Fighting against the temptation to sell his soul to commercialism, Moen has persevered hard to produce, oversee and develop albums of God-centered worship. As a result of Moen's tenure, Integrity Music has had introduced to us endearing and mammoth talents such as Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong team, Paul Baloche, Graham Kendericks and Lenny LeBlanc; all of whom have had altered Christian music for the betterment of God's glory. As a recording artist, Moen has not taken a backseat either; sales of his own albums have amassed over 5 million copies. Copious too are his songs that have become staples in churches today including "God is Good All the Time," "God Will Make a Way," "I Just Want to be Where You Are" and "Give Thanks." And as far as Christmas music is concerned, Moen already has two efforts under his belt including 1990's "Christmas" and 1996's "Emmanuel Has Come." However, as far as festive studio albums (such as efforts not recorded before a live audience) "Christmas: A Season of Hope" is Moen's first.
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So, what is Christmas: A Season of Hope like? For starters, "Christmas: A Season of Hope" is a grandiose affair of lush orchestral backed by the Prague Symphony creating a festive air of permeating tempered nostalgia. However, even when Moen is in his glad-handing charm, he is careful not to indulge in the heathen pageantry of the season. This is most evident in his rendition of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Listen to how he deliberately changes the line "there will be scary ghost stories" to "there will be laughter and stories." While on "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas," Moen chalks up the Sinatra connection with his jazzy flavored read made even more gorgeous with its late night lounge piano playing. Moen is to be congratulated for including the often neglected first verse of this Christmas favorite. Though more and more people are recording Mark Lowry's "Mary Did You Know," Moen's version stands a cut above the rest with its Celtic-sounding cello and some vocal help from Buddy Greene.
Lest one thinks that Moen has sold his worship soul to the sentimentality of the season this album is choked full of Jesus-centered newly written songs. The title cut "Season of Hope" accentuates the worship leader in Moen. Though not a worship song per sec, Moen and his backing choir are so engaging that it makes you want to sing along in a call to be God's hands and feet to help those in need. "Holy Lamb of God" finds Moen returning to what he does best-a piano worship balladry but somehow lacking the strong melodic structure that we are used to from this Dove Award winner. Much better is "My Christmas Prayer." As the title suggests, this is a prayer to be close to Jesus that is glowingly worshipful under the earnest dotage of Moen's crooning.
A few of the medleys really work as they string together old carols with some new compositions by Moen himself. Most delightful is the newly composed "O Have Ye Not Heard" (which shows a more contemporary side of Moen) tagged with "Good Christian Man Rejoice.' And we get a montage of carols that runs over six minutes with "Joy." All in all, Christmas: A Season of Hope may not be as worshipfully engaging as his former Christmas albums but Moen has made it an effort to make worshipping Jesus the reason for the season. If you are looking for a beautifully produced record that is by no means shy about Jesus with a strong piano nostalgia balladry, look no further than Christmas: A Season of Hope.
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