A Musical Christmas Party
Posted December 01, 2014
By ChristopherThiessen_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Very rarely do I anticipate a Christmas album. Although dozens of artists come out with Christmas music every year, I would much rather stick with my Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Michael Buble, *NSYNC (wait, what?), etc. than try to weed through all the new attempts at the classics. However, occasionally new Christmas albums come along that catch my attention (such as past releases Relient K's Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer or Downhere's How Many Kings). And when Rend Collective started hinting on Twitter that they were releasing a surprise Christmas album I got very excited.
Ever since I experienced my first Rend Collective concert at the beginning of this year, I have been incredibly thankful for their presence in the Christian music industry. They are one of the few bands that have been able to push the boundaries of CCM and Christian radio with their unique brand of folk praise. Their energy is infectious, and their love for God is obvious through their naturally worshipful songs.
The first thing I noticed about Campfire Christmas Vol. 1 was that it was less stripped down than its Campfire predecessor and felt more like their last album The Art of Celebration. But while I missed the crackling of the campfire in the background (with the exception of the opening "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"), I absolutely loved the diverse instrumentation. In addition to their normal folky guitars, mandolins and banjos, Rend Collective pulled out gorgeous string quartets, bells, accordions, Irish tin whistles and Uilleann pipes.
As for the songs, Rend Collective has a good selection of flawlessly arranged Christmas hymns for the bulk of the album. The anthemic, trumpet-blaring "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and the train-inspired (listen and you'll understand) "Joy To The World" call for the celebration that Rend Collective fans are so familiar with.
Their more worshipful side comes out on the stripped down yet no less than absolutely beautiful "O Come All Ye Faithful," "O Holy Night" and "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." These songs particularly emphasize Chris Llewellyn's emotion-filled voice, which he always uses to perfection.
While I loved their take on the Christmas classics, what caught my attention the most was their covers of the less well-known songs. Rend Collective didn't really do any originals on this album, with one kind-of exception (more on that later), but three of the songs I had never heard of before, which only adds to their quirkiness.
This quirkiness showed itself best on the not-well-known hymn "Ding Dong Merrily On High" and "Merry Christmas Everyone." The former I had never heard of before, but it's the one song on this album that consistently gets stuck in my head. The crowd vocals singing "ding dong" and "glooooooooria" bring a smile to my face every single time. "Merry Christmas Everyone" is actually a Christmas song by Shakin' Stevens that went to number one in the UK in 1985. It may be an unusual choice, but once again Rend Collective succeeds here in making everyone smile and celebrate that it's Christmas party time!
Another odd song pick is "Shining Light," which was an alternative rock song by fellow Northern Irish group Ash. From what I can tell, this is the first time the song has been recorded in a Christmas setting. That being said, Rend Collective successfully turned an upbeat pop rock song into one of the more worshipful moments of the album. Although the original's style is completely different from Rend Collective's, the lyrics lend themselves well to the moment: "A constellation once seen over Royal David's city, An epiphany you burn so pretty, yeah you are a shining light."
Finally, closing out the album is my favorite song of the album, "For All That You Have Done." I think it's pretty typical (to the point of being cliché) to end a Christmas album with the classic "Auld Lang Syne." Rend Collective, however, decided to take the beautiful melody from the classic and turn it into a song of praise to our God: "For all that you have done for us, for every battle won, we'll raise a song to bless Your heart, for all that you have done."
What makes this song special is its use of their native country's Uilleann pipes and tin whistles, which transport me back to my trip to Ireland nine years ago when I experienced some of the most captivating natural portraits our God has painted on this earth. For me, this song is a picturesque moment of worship ending the album perfectly.
Rend Collective has been pushing the limits of CCM for a couple years, and Campfire Christmas only continues their journey. The mixture of well-known and not-so-well-known songs on this album is perfect listening for the holiday season. Their quirky knack for joyful celebration, as well as their awe of the glory of God, remind us of the important things during this Christmas season. So pick this album up and party, worship and praise God along with Rend Collective!
Song To Download Now:
"For All That You Have Done" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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