|The Poets Are Back For The Holidays | Posted November 09, 2011
After seven successful years and four studio albums, Atlanta-based Christian rock band Smalltown Poets stepped down for a hiatus in 2004. Six years later, in 2010, they put out a Christmas single in anticipation of things to come. This year we have their first full release since 2004’s It’s Later than It’s Ever Been with their Christmas project (which you can preview for free here).
The band spent more than a year working on the album, and their care and attention to detail shows strongly throughout each song. They offer their own take on several classic Christmas songs, but they also offer a few originals. The album weighs in at an impressive 14 tracks long, and although two of these are brief musical interludes, it still plays as a refreshingly full and well-rounded album.
The album starts off with a haunting rendition of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” This beautiful song introduces their incredibly strong instrumentation choices that hold throughout the album. After a solid rendition of “In The Bleak Midwinter” (their single from 2010), we are introduced to the first out of the ordinary song on the album, the several decade old GLAD song “In the First Light.” The song is a beautiful track that builds musically throughout the song as it speaks about the birth of Christ and the angels’ celebration, made infinitely more meaningful when it looks forward in Michael Johnston’s words “how much greater will our song be when He comes again?”
After a very simple, clear rendition of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we are treated to another original song in “St. Nick is Alright.” The song is essentially a snapshot, attempting to “crystallize my festive ruminations.” The lyrics draw some interesting parallels between the legend of Santa and how parts of it actually hold deeper truths about the meaning of Christmas.
Smalltown Poets takes a creative turn in recording three classic Christmas songs (“Silent Night", “We Three Kings” and “Angels We Have Heard on High”) as primarily instrumental tracks. This allows them to create some beautiful arrangements without dependence on the words, which gives them a very unique flavor well worth savoring. These brief interludes held the album feel more like a coherent whole, and are overall beautifully done. Another highlight of the album is “On Christmas Day (Ave Maria),” a song that blends the piano and choral part of the classic song “Ave Maria” with original lyrics. The result is a masterful and moving piece that audiences of almost any genre could connect to and enjoy.
Some of the other classics get a much more straight forward but solid treatment. “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and “The First Noel” are both well done modern treatments of classics. We get one more original song in “His Delight,” a primarily acoustic track that is again very well written. The imagery of the song as it speaks of the joy of Christ’s birth is vivid and beautiful: “and from the starry veil beamed a fatherly smile, streamers of perfect light from a blazing sign on a holy night. Behold his delight.”
The album finishes with a comfortable recording of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” that sounds like it could have been recorded as friends played together at a Christmas party. It’s a fun way to end the album.
Overall, this is a very solid Christmas album with some very strong original songs and some creative twists on classics that makes the record as a whole stand out amidst the wide range of other Christmas releases this year. The album is upbeat and lighthearted in the right places and reverent in others, and overall it is a very well-rounded collection of songs that makes me hope these guys share more of their music in the future... and hopefully not another seven years down the road.
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