|A Holiday Mood Setter | Posted December 05, 2013
A year after releasing her debut album, A Wild Rose, Julie Elias is back, devoting her sophomore effort to Christmas tunes. The former Hollywood actress presents six cover songs and four originals for the new project, titled Holy Night.
When it comes to the cover songs, Elias provides decent interpretations, which are, for the most part, what you'd come to expect from songs such as "Joy to the World," "O Holy Night" and her melding of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel/What Child is This."
Highlights of her covers include "The First Noel," which has a bit of a Gloria Estefan feel to it. Overall, the album has a bit of a 1990s CCM feel to it, and this song uses that most to its advantage.
Elias puts a Nashville, Southern rock vibe on "O Come All Ye Faithful" that's both unexpected and fun, and she shockingly ends her album with jazz, of all things. The piano, drums and upright bass give the classic "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" a jazz club vibe, and Elias' voice works well with it.
The original songs on Holy Night are definitely the highlights of the album. Although the instrumentation generally remains in the throwback arena, the songwriting is solid and the themes powerful.
"The Nativity Song" simply and profoundly tells the story of Jesus' birth in dramatic fashion—almost like it belongs in a Christmas musical or film soundtrack. The chorus is catchy: "You, you are the light / And you, you are the hope / And you, you are the newborn king."
There are some nicely written word pictures in "Call Him Jesus," such as: "Mary holds the Savior while Heaven holds its breath." The song is a delicate one that shows off the lower end of Elias' vocal register.
"The Blessing" is a definite album highlight. While not distinctly a Christmas song, the tender expression of love is especially gripping. Elias' drama background continues to show itself, as her voice takes on a Disney princess quality (yes, that's a good thing here) as she sings, "When you come to me and hold me close to you / I bless you, and you bless me, too." The song could be from a parent to a child, or from God to His children, as the singer declares that throughout the day, "My blessing goes with you."
Elias lauds the excitement of the season with "Glorious Day," but points to Jesus as the ultimate source of hope and delight: "Seasons come, seasons go, but one thing will never change / The baby born in Bethlehem is the Truth that will remain." There's a nice "Gloria, in excelsis Deo" interlude from "Angels We Have Heard on High," complete with horns.
As we pointed out in her initial offering, Julie Elias is an honest and artistic songwriter, deploying her dramatic gifts into song. And, it's true, she shines the most when she's able to sing the songs she herself has written. I'm not sure the cover songs quite captured her level of artistry that the original songs did, yet overall, Holy Night is a nice, easy listen, especially for fans out there who loved the sounds from golden age of CCM in the 1990s.
I think moving forward, I'd love to see Elias experiment a bit more with the jazz angle of things, as it seemed to work well on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," or more on the Latin-influenced end, as shown with "The First Noel."
There are some special moments on this album, for sure, yet the strength of this album really lies in its ability to play the background for setting a Christmas mood musically.
Song to Download Now:
"The Blessing" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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