Downhere’s first ever holiday collection which retains much of the bands classic elements, but also stretches to previously uncharted realms. Sure, there’s plenty of melodic vocal interplay from co-front men, guitarist Marc Martel and keyboardist Jason Germain, alongside the ultra-infectious rhythm section comprised of bassist Glenn Lavender and drummer Jeremy Thiessen, but there’s also a compelling experiment with organic instrumentation and ingenious holiday interpretations, alongside equally riveting originals.
Though the band carefully preserved the integrity of timeless tunes like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Bring a Torch,” “What Child Is This?,” “Silent Night,” among many others, each rendering has the group’s signature stamp and is firmly planted in the present. The group also hopes that in the midst of all the shopping insanity, brought on by today’s consumer society, people will truly utilize How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas as a soundtrack to slow down and plug into the true reason for the celebration.
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A Memorable Christmas Experience| Posted October 14, 2009
Downhere may not be one of the most well known bands in the Christian music industry, but they have a very loyal fanbase and are a darling of most critics. Their last album, Ending Is Beginning, did however get them more exposure, garnering two Top 5 singles, in addition to the Bonus Track "How Many Kings" from the Centricity Records compilation, Bethlehem Skyline.
"How Many Kings" is arguably Downhere's most popular and almost signature song. It is their highest charting song at #4, and that was only at being a Christmas song. It's no wonder that they used it again on Ending is Beginning, and once again, when they finally put out a Christmas album.
I've personally been waiting for this a long time. I've wanted a Christmas album from Downhere for at least two years now, and it never seemed like it would happen. But earlier this year, the band found themselves with some time on their hands, so they decided to do just what it never seemed like they would do, record a Christmas album. And what better song to be the title of the album than "How Many Kings"?
Downhere opens the album with their familiar and masterfully written hit, which is supposed to have a small instrumental addition but I haven't found it myself just yet so it's probably something you have to be really looking for to notice. But either way, the song is a great and memorable track. Showing how much they really love this song, the band also closes the album with the song. But don't worry, they aren't being ridiculous, the ending track is a different version of the song. "How Many Kings (Re-imagined_)" is a cover of their own song, so to speak. The melody has been tweaked in the first half, and completely rewritten in the second half. Lead vocalists Jason Germain switches places with Marc Martel by taking the lead on this song. Which version is better will be a matter of taste but I like what Jason brings to the already great song.
The album also includes the other(and often forgotten) contribution by the band to the Bethlehem Skyline compilation, "Glory To God." The song is a very good, uplifting, and almost worshipful Christmas song, with a soaring chorus sure to get stuck in your head as you decorate Christmas cookies and trim the tree.
An album highlight is "Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella." I heard Downhere's reworking of this song via a Live recording of it on Youtube. I fell in love with it and while this does lack a small part of that version that I do miss a lot, the song is still an awesome musical experience. As you may know, this song is a very old and classic carol that is often forgotten about.(Odds are, you've heard the melody as it's had multiple instrumental covers(most notably Mannheim Steamroller), but not the words.) Well, Downhere not only covers the song brilliantly, they add a terrific chorus to it utilizing both lead vocalists(a strongpoint of the band) which almost makes this song feel like an original. This is definitely one of the songs the band should use to promote the album.
But this isn't just a rehash of what has already been released. There's plenty of meaty new stuff here too. The band covers "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" brilliantly, giving it a rock edge which really explodes after the almost haunting bridge. This track is probably the greatest surprise on the album as it is not just a straight forward cover.
Downhere offers two new originals as well. "Christmas in the Hearts" is a catchy anthem complete with horns that reminds us that even if all the things we associate with Christmas were gone, we could still celebrate the holiday because it exists in our hearts. "Gift Carol" comes complete with a memorable chorus an a catchy hook begging for replay. The song uses the metaphor of Christmas gifts under the tree to show the real reason for the season.
"What Child Is This" is done fairly straightforward, but the acoustic and intimate feel of the song combined with a surprise of a verse sung in French makes the track stand out from other renditions.
The band also shows their funny side in this album. "Good King Wenceslas" is almost done in a honky-tonk way. It could be argued as both the best or worst track on the album depending on how you like it. Something tells me there will be some division over this. The band also puts forth "Five Golden Rings," which after the track's eleven second duration, is as self-explanatory as you can get. According to the band, this was the only part people really liked to sing, so it's the only part they recorded. Hey, can't argue with that. The band also puts forth a 4-part harmony(utilizing all four band members) rendition of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" which also shows off their comedic side.
The remaining two tracks, "Angels From The Realms of Glory" and "Silent Night" are fairly straightforward renditions. I guess the band wanted to play it safe for a few tracks. "Angels" isn't too over-recorded and fits well with Jason's typical choice of songs so it's a welcome addition. "Silent Night" isn't bad but aside from the captivating background vocals of Marc Martel, is fairly routine, but it's still very good.
All in all, this is one Christmas release that should be on top of any Christmas music collection, and Downhere fans should eat it up. The album is one of the most varied that you'll come across, with each song being an almost completely different musical experience. Downhere's regular music is a fresh change of pace from the typical CCM fare, and their Christmas album is no different. So if you're in the mood for a unique and fresh Christmas listening experience, or even just a fresh listening experience period, pick up "How Many Kings: Songs For Christmas." It's hard to have any buyers remorse for this gem.
Christmas Songs for the King| Posted October 05, 2009
Downhere our Dove, Juno and Covenant award-winning neighbors from the north have thrown their collective hats into the holiday ring with the October 6th release of How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas. Though the popular, decade-spanning band has relocated to Tennessee, they’ll forever be associated with the “Canadian Invasion” that Christian music saw in the mid to late 90’s and early 00’s. And even though Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving a week early, they still observe Christmas in Octo… oops, December.
Instead of merely updating standard, ubiquitous seasonal favorites with their signature acoustic alt-rock sound, the members of Downhere chose to create distinctive and engaging yuletide hybrids. The band members’ careful consideration in song selection for How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas was balanced by a desire to preserve the timelessness and integrity of the original carols and hymns. Songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Bring A Torch,” and Glory To God” bear Downhere's trademark sound replete with acoustic guitar, melodic piano, strings section, shared lead vocals and deep harmonies; while the albums’ other tracks are much more stylistically diverse. “Christmas In Our Hearts” has a Beatlesesque feel and “What Child Is This” harkens to a Segovia-influenced classical guitar piece. It’s when the band departs their customary that the songs of How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas gleam with that indefinable spark that seems to characterize Christmas, as well as their musical career.
And though the coming of The King of Glory to Earth is due more than a measure of gravitas and respect, the band also recognizes the pure joy and fun associated with the Yuletide. This is nowhere more evident than in the bluesy, honky-tonk interpretation of “Good King Wenceslas,” the extremely short choral “Five Golden Rings” and the quirkily hilarious, oompapa-seasoned “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”.
Awesome| Posted November 16, 2009
I really like this album. I downloaded this album today and love it. The mix of traditional and original songs is awesome. If you are looking for a revival of old Christmas classics this is definitely the right place to look. The new titles are sure to be classics soon enough as well.
The revival of "God rest ye Merry Gentlemen" is definitely a highligt. As is "How Many Kings (Re-imagined)
I for one thouroughly enjoyed "Christmas in our Hearts" as well. It is a completly different sounding song that gets across a very relevant in our commercial society, in a kind of fun way.
This album will be a seasonal favourite for years to come.