Saturday, April 27, 2013

Music Review: Tennessee Christmas by Point of Grace


Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun arrangements of good songs
Cons: I'm disappointed they didn't include more originals.
The Bottom Line:
Most familiar songs
Should have more originals
Good but should be great




Disappointing Choices for this Christmas Collection

This is a tough review for me to write.  I love most of the songs on Tennessee Christmas.  I have loved some of them for years.  But this disc could have been so much more.

Let me see if I can explain.

Tennessee Christmas is a Christmas collection from Point of Grace, a superstar female group in Christian music.  The former quartet, now trio (one of their members just left the group to be a full time mother), is known for their pop music with tight, beautiful harmonies.

Over the years, they have released two Christmas CDs.  This disc combines songs from those discs with one new song, the title track.  These are the original recordings, so on all but the new song, you are still getting four part harmony.

And the new song is the reason I got the disc (on sale).  I have loved Tennessee Christmas since the first time I heard Amy Grant's original version.  This is also the first single I've heard from this group as a trio.  They've still got their tight harmonies.  Honestly, if I didn't know they'd lost a member, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell.  The song is heavy on guitar, and it has a slight country ting.  I love it.

And I do love the arrangements here.  For example, their version of "O Holy Night" is one of my favorites.  The ladies take turns singing the first four lines, overlapping at the beginning/ending of each before joining for beautiful harmony.  They are backed by harp and an orchestra.  It gives me chills still.

But for pure fun, there's the back to back "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and "Jingle Bell Rock."  The first song is a fast, jazzy take like nothing you've heard before.  "Jingle Bell Rock" is slightly more subdued, but still plenty upbeat and fun.

They even take on Handel in "For Unto Us."  The orchestra and their harmonies make it a fun version of the classical piece.

They also include some of the rarely recorded songs.  Even with my extensive Christmas music collection, I only have one other version of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."  This version is upbeat and starts out with a strong orchestra opener.  The ladies sing in harmony most of the time.  They've also got versions of Amy Grant's modern arrangement of "Little Town" and her Christmas classic "Breath of Heaven."  (Getting a bit of a picture here?)  I am still amazed at how well "Breath of Heaven" works for a group.  The song is Mary's prayer as she considers the changes coming to her life with Jesus' birth.  It does help that it's not until the chorus that we first hear the entire group singing.  And the dramatic orchestra arrangement leaves the song feeling very haunting.

Obviously, I like the songs here.  So what's my problem?  They chose the familiar over the original.  On their first Christmas release, five of the tracks were new.  Only one of those makes it here.  "Emmanuel God is with Us" is a good reminder to look out for the unfortunate around us.  I like the song.  But why couldn't they have included some of the others from that disc, a couple of which I like more.

Their second Christmas disc only had one truly original song.  "Let There be Light" makes it here as well.  After a slow start, this song picks up tempo and becomes really fun.  Most interesting, the main vocals are done by John David Webster with the ladies singing duets and backup with him.

So, basically, my complaint comes down to song selection.  There's nothing wrong with the songs here, but if they wanted to do a compilation, they should have included the truly original songs they've done instead of the covers and over recorded.

If you don't have either of their previous releases, by all means get Tennessee Christmas.  You'll enjoy it.  But if you are a die hard Point of Grace fan, you can wait until it's really discounted during the after Christmas sales.

CD Length: 1:00:29
Tracks:
1. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
2. Jingle Bells
3. Winter Wonderland
4. Let it Snow, Let is Snow, Let it Snow/Sleigh Ride
5. Let There be Light
6. Little Town
7. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
8. Jingle Bell Rock
9. Emmanuel God is with Us/O Come, O Come Emmanuel
10. Angels We Have Heard on High
11. For Unto Us
12. O Holy Night
13. Joy to the World
14. Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)
15. Tennessee Christmas

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