Friday, May 17, 2013

Music Review: A Cappella Christmas by This Hope

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun versions of classic songs but three great original tracks
Cons: The medley of "Away in a Manger/Silent Night"
The Bottom Line:
Great originals
Fun takes on classic carols
With tight harmonies

An Independent Gem in My Christmas Collection

This Hope is an independent Christian group consisting of five guys.  They've been together for close to 20 years now, touring the country and releasing a new CD every year or two.  Since they are alumni of my college and old church, I hear them any time they are in the area.  While their concerts are a mix of traditional songs and a cappella music, their first Christmas release was A Cappella Christmas.  It's had a steady presence in my CD player ever since I got it 9 years ago.

I am a lover of a cappella music when it is done right, with amazing harmonies.  And that's just what you'll find here.  Plus these aren't your normal arrangements of traditional songs.  There's definitely something here to catch your ear.

The disc starts out with an energetic arrangement of "Joy to the World."  It's less than two minutes long, but they get four verses sung.  The harmonies they start and end with are tight.

Actually, there are quite a few energetic songs on the disc.  "Go Tell It" is another upbeat version.  One of the guys is doing some base work in the background, but that still allows the rest to blend together in great harmony.  They definitely have some fun with things near the end as they really speed up and then slow way down before they sing one final verse.

Of course, if you want pure fun, there's "Good Christian Men Rejoice."  They do all three verses in 42 seconds.  Not only is it fast, but they do the final verse in a round, meaning that you really can't understand the words.  Yes, they do keep it from being noise.

"Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel" is another song where they switch up the tempos.  They start out very slow, all singing together in gorgeous harmony.  It almost sounds like something a group of monks would sing.  But after the first chorus, they pick up the tempo.  At this point, one of the guys sings lead while the others are humming or making other noises in the background.  But they slow it down again for the final verse.

I love the song "Mary Did You Know," but it took me a little while to warm up to their version of the modern classic.  Why?  Because between the verses, they feel the need to repeatedly sing "Mary, Mary, Mary did you know?"  The harmonies are great as they sing it, but it gets boring by the end.  Fortunately, when singing the verses, they hum chords or sing words behind the lead singer.  And that note he hits at the end is out of this world.

They've got another fun song on their hands with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  At times, they are singing together in 5 part harmony, but in others they are humming behind the lead singing while they all snap their fingers.  Again, they play around with the tempo some, but it is mostly upbeat.

In comparison, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" is rather boring.  They are all singing together as an intro and outro, but when it comes to the actual song, it's one fairly slow speed.  It sounds nice, but after all the fun that's come before, it's a bit of a let down.

Of course, my least favorite of the traditional tracks on the disc is the medley "Away in a Manger/Silent Night."  I'm not an especially big fan of either song, so that was strike one against it.  Their version is safe, slow, and a little boring.

Frankly, I enjoy the traditional tracks enough that they would sell me on the disc all by themselves.  But then come the three original tracks, and I am definitely hooked.  "Born That We May Live" comes in the middle.  One of the guys does percussion the whole way through, while the others fill in with background vocals behind the lead singer, so the harmonies aren't as good as some of the other tracks.  But I love the reminder that Jesus was born for us.

The final two original tracks come at the end.  "He Has Come" is a triumphant song of praise for the gift of the Messiah.  They've got some great harmonies on the chorus, while they mainly stick with humming backup for the verses.

They slow things down for "This is Not the End."  While there is a lead vocal on the verses, the others are all singing words for the background music.  And they all sing together on the chorus.  The harmonies are tight.  The words tie Christmas and Easter together by reminding us that His death and resurrection were the ultimate reason Jesus was born.

I'm glad I was in a place to hear This Hope because A Cappella Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas CDs.  This is one of those discs that if I don't get to hear enough every year, I am highly disappointed.  If you want some great Christian a cappella to listen to at Christmas, this disc is exactly what you are looking for.

CD Length: 32:32
1. Joy to the World
2. Away in a Manger/Silent Night
3. Go Tell It
4. Good Christian Men Rejoice
5. Born That We May Live
6. Oh Come Oh come Emmanuel
7. Mary Did You Know
8. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
9. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
10. He Has Come
11. This is Not the End

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