Album Review: for King & Country - A Drummer Boy Christmas Posted October 29, 2020 By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer
What You Need To Know
The current kings of Christian pop, the brothers Smallbone of for KING & COUNTRY, have slowly been building up their repertoire of Christmas tunes. This culminates in their first full-length Christmas studio album, A Drummer Boy Christmas, themed after their signature rendition of the classic carol.
What It Sounds Like
For anyone who has followed the band over the past few years, the album's sound should come as little surprise. Many of the carols selected were featured on their Live Christmas album released a few years ago. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and its outro "Won't You Come" make their studio debut here. Bear Reinheart of NEEDTOBREATHE will surprise listeners with a guest appearance. His voice fits perfectly on the track's eerie and spine-tingling atmosphere and will make you long for future collaborations between the two. I still think these two tracks should be a single one as "Won't You Come" is the obvious grand finale to the track and doesn't stand on its own properly. But those are technical footnotes to the quality of the listening experience. "Joy to the World" gets the beautifully bombastic FK&C treatment and the result is unsurprisingly glorious. Other cuts are intimately low key and bring out the worship side of these classics. "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Angels We Have Heard on High" get upgrades from their previous EP versions and the new versions fit well here.
The highlights for many fans will be the two new cuts. "Heavenly Hosts" is the standout and primed for radio success. With a slow-building approach, the song definitely feels like a classic in the making. While following the formula for many modern worship songs, the execution is filled with more wonder and emotion than comparable tracks. The track is a success of dynamics, with both soothing, reflecting harmonies balancing the grand choral highs. All wrapped in just enough of a Christmassy feel to be at home in the season, but not to distract from the setting of a quiet midnight field in the middle of nowhere where the message of the heavenly hosts occurred.
"The Carol of Joseph (I Believe In You)" takes a quiet approach to capture the wonder of Joseph, an often overlooked character in the Nativity narrative, at being the caretaker of the newborn king. While the brothers Smallbone are often known to go big in their song's climactic moments, this is an example of them keeping it simple and quiet throughout and successfully replicating the mood of cradling the newborn king in the night.
If there's any gripe, it may be that the 13-track length is a tad deceptive, with one of the tracks being a monologue, and the aforementioned "Won't You Come" being an extension of its lead-in. Add in the "In The Bleak Midwinter" Intro and Outro (both well done but their truncated nature doesn't leave room for either to break out) that bookends the collection, and only about 9 fully-fledged songs are present. With fine originals like "Baby Boy" and "Glorious" available, it would've been nice to see if they got reimagined mixes similar to "Drummer Boy" or "Angels." That said, the album doesn't feel shorted for their exclusion as the songs present still shine bright.
Not to knock the sleigh bells and Christmas party side of the season, but I always found that the songs focused on the true meaning tend to have the most replay value. Luckily for me, this album is, start to finish, focused on the birth of Christ. It's a reverent and intimate Christmas pageant of an album.
The new songs giving the perspectives of the shepherds and Joseph round out the worship themes of the classic carols. While perhaps these songs don't reinvent any perspectives on the birth of Christ, they do offer plenty to meditate on by the fireside this Christmas season.
I'll add in a special mention for the album art. I've always loved the drummer boy/soldier boy motifs of for KING & COUNTRY's past Christmas EPs and singles and this newest addition definitely captures the mood of the album's music.
for KING & COUNTRY have become the gold standard of popular Christian music this past decade. On paper, they more or less do what their contemporaries do, albeit sometimes a lot bigger. But their execution tends to have more emotion, more genuity, more passion. You can feel the authenticity in every note of their work. This Christmas album is no exception. While there isn't anything here you really wouldn't expect if you're familiar with the current conventions of the genre, it's hard to find much here that isn't flawlessly executed. This could be the Christmas classic album to kick off the new decade of Christmas music.