Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TUESDAY REVIEW: Ross King, "The Christmas Stories"

Ross King - The Christmas Stories
I'm biased.
I'll admit that.
I'll readily confess that Ross King is, in fact, my friend.

But since our relationship started with me reviewing his projects, we might as well keep it going, huh?

The Christmas Stories is the new 10-song collection from worship leader, songwriter and producer Ross King. For years, Ross has written and/or arranged Christmas music each holiday season and earlier this fall decided to finally make that Christmas record.

There are certainly a few "carols" on the project, but the record is primarily made of original work or major remakes of familiar Christmas songs. Let's check it:

Ross King does a lot of things well, and one of them is creating music that's uncluttered and focused. The Christmas Stories features what King does best - build songs with strong band arrangements that don't overshadow the strong lyrical content. You'll find solid acoustic/electric/drum/bass/keys acoustic rock songs, but there are some new directions, too. Ross grabs a ukulele for his take on "Jingle Bells," adds some jazzy horn touches for the fun "My Christmas Eve" and dang near channels Springsteen for "Rise Up." I tend to think too many artists try to show off too much genre muscle on records these days, but Ross has balanced this record nicely- sticking with what he's natural and comfortable at with a few smart musical adventures to keep it fun.

For me, the strongest tunes on The Christmas Stories are the new ones. "Bethlehem," an extrapolation on an old Oswald Chambers quote is one of the most captivating songs on the record. Everything's there - fresh lyrics, memorable chord changes, fantastic fills and one of the best lead breaks I've heard in a long time. "The First Noel" is probably the most true-to-form carol on this record and it's a great one, especially for congregational use. The carols here are adaptations and while they vary from the versions we know, they do stay true to the overall lyrical direction of those beloved songs. The laid-back version of "Jingle Bells" doesn't carry the same sing-song joyousness of the old carol, but his "Joy To The World" somehow makes the power of that old song even more impactful by taking its time. Plain and simple - there's lots of variety here. The worshipful rocker "Merry Christmas To All" manages to build a framework wherein the coming of Christ impacts the whole globe instead of just westernized Christianity and "Rise Up" might be the most confident, righteous Christmas worship tune around.

Naturally, I review projects with a worship leader's eye and I feel confident that almost every one of these songs is completely doable for most any musical team. There are few things that some worship teams might pull off - the oboe(?) in "My Christmas Eve" or the aforementioned ukulele. "The First Noel" is a great way to do this is in a song that's easy to play and still true-to-the-beloved form. "Bethlehem" and "Merry Christmas To All" deserve to be in your setlist this week.

For teams with multiple vocalists on stage, there are few places to shine - the harmonies of "Bethlehem" or the big choir ending of "Joy To The World" would be pretty fantastic with 5 or 6 skilled singers.

Personally, I tend to favor the original works over the carol covers/modifications, but regardless, it's a varied record with a great attitude about this season.

You can check it here!