Review Date: 12/16/2013
Review By: Ben Knight
Release Date: 11/01/2011
Traditional Christmas Music……But not too traditional.
Now that the holiday season is upon us, everywhere we go we’re almost certain to hear Christmas music, whether that be in your car, department stores, restaurants, or in your home. As well as bringing us joy and happiness, these songs also give us strength and a renewed spirit in our faith. Over the years though, we’ve heard the same old songs being redone over and over by different artists and some of them have become bland and emotionless as a result. If you’re looking for an album of songs to brighten up your holiday, look no further than Smalltown Poets Christmas.
The album opens up with “O Come O Come Emmanuel“ and brings with it a haunting arrangement of strings; bells, piano, and organ that make a statement right from the outset. Michael Johnston’s vocals soar above the barrage of instruments almost effortlessly and drummer Byron Goggins provides intensity with his build ups and well-placed fills. This song jump-starts the album and brings us into one of my favorite songs on the album, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Musically this song is beautifully arranged with the guitars and piano adding a delicate balance to the driving drums and bass, adding excitement to the song while still keeping it on the ground. One of the elements which causes this album to stand out from the majority of Christmas albums is that it’s really well produced without being completely squashed; the drum tones are especially nice.
“In the First Light” has a lot of strong melodies and the back and forth between the lead vocals and background vocals keep you listening intently. Amongst the more interesting tracks on the album there are a couple songs that aren’t as strong and, although “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is saved by the female vocals, it’s a fairly straightforward song and, unfortunately, falls into the category of being one of the least interesting on the album. The same can be said about “On Christmas Day (Ave Maria).” On the flip side of those two tracks, “St. Nick is Alright“ is a lively song which brings the piano to the forefront and boasts cymbal crashes and horn parts that give it a beatles-esque quality and you just can’t help but nod along with it.
Although “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings” are both beautiful and ambient, they seem to be more transition songs than anything else are basically filler material. Keeping to more of a traditional feel, “Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing” is given a little more life thanks to the constant beat of the bass drum. “Good Christian Men Rejoice” is another foot tapping song which will remind you of Beach Boys type melodies and for those familiar with Pray For Rain will also hear a bit of PFR in there too.
While Smalltown Poets certainly aren’t breaking the mold with this Christmas album, those who are looking for more than the same old Christmas songs will certainly find it here.