Josh Wilson: 'Noel' Album Review
Prime Cuts: Jesus is Alive, Almost Christmas, Once a Year (Featuring Andrew Peterson)
With Hillsong, Lincoln Brewster, Don Moen, Steven Curtis Chapman, Sandi Patty, Jason Gray, and Jeremy Camp releasing new festive albums this year, the competition has become very stiff. With such a prodigious output of Christmas music, how do you get the casual fan to part with his/her money? Some artists (such as Jason Gray) have gone all the way to fill their disc with a large swath of newly written songs while others (like Jeremy Camp) have chosen the more traditional route with a minimal offering of originals. Like most of his peers, Josh Wilson has taken the middle of the road approach with a well balanced portfolio of songs (4 originals, 4 traditional carols and 2 instrumentals). For starters, Wilson is one of Contemporary Christian Music's most ingenious writers. Who would ever forget Wilson's "3 Minute Song" where he laments about the absurdity of trying to capture the greatness of God within the confines of a three minute song? Or who would forget Wilson's heart wrenching cry for grace with the number 1 smash "Savior Please." Wilson indeed has a way of peeling beneath the surface of his subject to unearth new insights. And he does it again this time with his four newly penned songs. Even with the traditional carols and the instrumentals, Wilson never sings them straight through; he adds his own patented touch to each track.
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Of the newly penned songs, "Jesus is Alive" was first released late last year. As soon as the single was released, "Jesus is Alive" made a home run to the pinnacle of the chart. Here lies the appeal: few Christmas songs capture the complete story of redemption as fully as this cut. Presenting an overarching view of Jesus from his birth, death and resurrection this radio friendly pop delight lays out the Gospel in its entirety augmented with an irresistibly hook. Starting off with shakes and jingles, "Almost Christmas" finds a childlike Wilson anticipating singing about the boy from Bethlehem. While "Christmas Changes Everything," written by Wilson and Jeff Pardo, takes some of the traditional phrases of Christmas carols and injects the Gospel message making this a wonderful song for churches to sing around Christmas. And album closer "Once a Year" is a piano ballad finding Andrew Peterson leading his voice to the bridge over the perennial theme of loving others beyond Christmas day.
As for the traditional carols, Mandisa joins Wilson on a pseudo-reggae take of "Go, Tell It on the Mountain" awash with some delightful Caribbean island-esque drum beats. Tagging "O Come Let Us Adore Him" to the end of "Do You Hear What I Hear" makes this hymn more than just a descriptive depiction of Christmas but a worshipful response too. Playing as many as 18 different types of instruments including the guitar, ukulele, hammered dulcimer, and glockenspiel, it is not surprising that Wilson includes 2 instrumentals here. Both are excellent displays of Wilson's virtuoso as an instrumentalist. "Carol of the Bells," for instance, finds Wilson providing some marvellous guitar work building up to an intricate rhythmic climax. Album opener "The First Noel" showcases layers and layers of acoustics mixed together with keys and clarinet making it into a delight symphony of sounds.
The pride of place of "Noel," Wilson's first ever Christmas effort, is in the fact that there is something for everyone. Fans who have loved to hear Wilson picking at his guitar as he did before with "Amazing Grace" (from "Life is Not a Snapshot") or "It Is Well" (from "See You") will love the 2 instrumentals here. Others who enjoy Wilson as a creative songwriter will again be awed by the originals. And while those who want something familiar that comes with the season will have much to thank God for here. "Noel," in short, is satisfying regardless of where your preference lies.
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