Thursday, October 23, 2008

Music Review: Sara Groves' O Holy Night

I've made not secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of Sara Groves' music. Her artistry in combining words and music does more than tell a story, it draws you into the story. When I heard she would be coming out with a Christmas album I wondered how she would approach it. Would she do a traditional approach, with the holiday standards sung as we always do? Would it be full or original songs centered around the holiday theme? Or would there be the traditional songs with new arrangements? The answer, as you might expect, is a mix of these.

Sara Groves' O Holy Night album coverIn general, there are two camps when it comes to Christmas music. The first group wants to hear the traditional songs sung as they have always been sung, thus invoking the memories of Christmas past and allowing for the sing-along. The second group may like the traditional arrangements, but also equally appreciates new versions of the old songs. Sara does both on this album, giving a new sound to well-loved carols and paying homage to others. I tend to fall into the second group, and found myself actually hearing the lyrics of these well-known carols for perhaps the first time in my life. That's a good thing, a reminder of the deep theology placed in these songs we sing halfheartedly and laugh as we fumble over words we don't really know.

As usual, listening to Sara sing these songs is like wrapping up in a warm, comfy blanket - something you can fall into and relax and really enjoy. Several of the original songs were penned with the help of Ben Shive and Andy Gullahorn - and excellent combination of tunesmiths, to be sure. With this combination you would expect a great album for the holidays - and the product lives up to expectations.

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For me, the highlight of the album is the "To Be With You". In the vein of many other holiday songs reminiscing of home, "To Be With You" dwells on the feelings of being with family and remembering traditions over the holidays. It's a song you can listen to and really feel in the mood for the season, ready to see family and enjoy the time together. Again, all delivered in Sara's smooth, lilting voice.

Clip of "To Be With You"

The title song is one of the traditional carols that Sara sings with her own arrangement. If you've heard some of the hymns that she has sung with modern arrangements then you know what to expect from this. With her arrangement, you hear the song you've known for so long in a way that is unique but brings to mind the original melody and harmony, but in a way that (as I mentioned above) highlights the words and allows us to hear their meaning anew. "O Holy Night" may not have the soaring melody and grandiosity of the original, but is down to earth - conversational, like most of Sara's music. The reminder that

"His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression will cease"
is one that we may not expect from a Christmas song, but it is central to the reality of His coming to earth; and, it's a thing we need to recall.

Clip of "O Holy Night"

Sara also lets her humor show in the song "Toy Packaging". With a little bit of the sound you might expect from a Rankin-Bass holiday special, this song is not so much about shiny paper or pretty bows. No, this song is therapy. Because, really, who among us has not gone a little mad at the prospect of wrapping all the presents so they look just right under the tree?
Nothing makes me lose my cool like toy packaging
Ask the kids please leave the room, it's time for toy packaging
Every adhesive known to man
is holding down this Robot man
my self-esteem is in the can
toy packaging

Clip of "Toy Packaging"

All in all, this is an excellent addition to the collection of holiday music. Her traditional renditions of favorite carols are beautiful, her original arrangements are both appropriate for the tunes and enhance to old ears the words we too easily forget. Her offering of original songs are wonderful and will echo in you thoughts through the season. As usual, I'm not disappointed in she has chosen to offer us. The album, released through INO Records, hit stores this past Tuesday and is available iTunes. Enjoy! And, again, thanks to the kind people at INO for providing me with a copy to review.

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Anonymous said...

You nailed it saying you heard the lyrics for the first time.. I have sang "O Holy Night" for years and never heard "till he appeared and the soul felt its worth" Good stuff. Also, I love the light hearted "Toy packaging" But I might point out you have the wrong lyrics! It should read "Ask the kids please leave the room it's time for toy packaging. I'm drawing up the battle plans to extricate this robot man. My self esteem is in the can. Toy packaging"

Anywho, we agree she is one talented artist!


euphrony said...

Beth, you nailed me on the lyrics. In my defense, I just copied those exact lyrics from Sara's website - must have been a change from recording to liner notes. Either way is hilarious, though.

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