Thursday, July 11, 2013

Music Review: Joy by Steven Curtis Chapman

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great new Christmas release fans will love
Cons: He's done better with the originals in the past
The Bottom Line
Christmas spirit filled
Not the best originals
Still a good release

Steven Curtis Chapman Wishes Us a Joyful Christmas

The last few of Steven Curtis Chapman's releases have been themed.  Rumor is he is working on something new for his fans in 2013, but to tide us over until that happens, he is presenting Joy, his third full length Christmas CD.

Six of the 13 songs on here are original compilations, and you can certainly get the joy of the season from many of them.  "Christmas Time Again," written with son Caleb, and "Christmas inKentucky" certainly fit the bill as they celebrate the warm memories of snow and family together time everyone associates with the season.  Both songs are upbeat and fun as well.

Of the new songs, my favorite is "I Am Joseph (God is With Us)," which takes a look at the characters from the familiar story and draws parallels with our lives today before reminding us that God is always with us.  Again, it's a light, bouncy song that is sure to make you smile.

But even on a disc of joy, Steven can't resist putting in a more bittersweet song.  "Christmas Card" is written for someone who is struggling to find the joy in the season because of personal trials going on in their lives.  Even so, this anthem reminds us that the season really is about God's love for us.

"Happy New Year" closes out the disc.  As Steven often does, he ends things on a slow, reflective note.  This time it looks at the blank page that a new year brings and reminds us that God can make great things out of our lives in the next 12 months.

The final new song actually starts a trio of jazz inspired songs.  "Christmas Kiss" is a fun tribute to love.  I can imagine Steven singing this to his wife with candlelight glowing on Christmas Eve.

Of the jazz trio, "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" is the fastest.  It's a fun piano based arrangement that will have your toes tapping before you know it.  This section closes off with a slow, guitar based version of "Christmas Time is Here."  While the Peanuts' version will always be my favorite version, I do find this one nice as well.

Steven has worked hard to put his stamp on the traditional songs here.  "Joy to the World" starts things off on a nice upbeat note.  I absolutely love the bells on "Do You Hear What I Hear?"  "What Child is This?" gets not only a more upbeat guitar arrangement, but as coda that affirms who the Child really is.  Again, it's a great version.  "In the Bleak Midwinter" is slow and prayerful.  The song that gets the most change is "We Three Kings."  Again, it's more upbeat than we're used to hearing, but Steven also plays around with the melody.  It takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate, but I really do like it.

For many of these songs, Steven plays acoustic guitar, which gives the entire disc a more relaxed feel than some of his other discs.  There is no mistaking his guitar driven pop style, and it's in full force here.  Of course, he does have piano and drums on most songs, but he brings in strings at times to liven things up as well.

My only real complaint with the disc lies in the original songs.  With the exception of "I Am Joseph," I like them but I don't love them.  He's done better on his previous two Christmas releases.  Of the three, this is my least favorite.  Having said that, there are still some enjoyable songs and fun arrangements of classics here, so I will be pulling it out every year.

So Joy is a Christmas release that Steven Curtis Chapman's many fans will enjoy.  It's not his best, but it's still very good.

CD Length: 44:57
1. Joy to the World
2. Christmas Time Again
3. Christmas inKentucky
4. Do You Hear What I Hear?
5. Christmas Kiss
6. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
7. Christmas Time is Here
8. What Child is This?
9. In the Bleak Midwinter
10. Christmas Card
11. We Three Kings
12. I Am Joseph (God is with Us)
13. Happy New Year

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