At this time of year, nothing can get a person in the “Christmas spirit” like listening to some good Christmas music! So, reviewing a Christmas Cd seemed like a great idea! This year, there were several great projects released for the Christmas season by Southern Gospel artists. Yet, I wanted to reach back in time a little and grab one that was released in 2005 ~ Christmas with Brian Free and Assurance!
This project is outstanding ~ it has a perfect combination of arrangements and styles that you would want to hear on a Christmas project. What really impressed me about this recording the most, was how all the songs came from diverse styles of music, yet blended and worked together for a similar sound. The material ranges from Hymns like Hark The Harold Angels Sing, to Christmas Classics like White Christmas. Contemporary Christian ballads including Strange Way To Save The World and Season of Love. Another ballad, Christmas shoes, was inspired by a movie … and you’ll even find the Ukrainian folk tune, Carol of the Bells! It may sound like a “musical mess” to some, but trust me, when you listen to the album as a whole, you will hear nothing but unity and an endless flow of harmony (both with the vocals and tracks!). The tracks on this Cd don’t upset one another, jarring the listener from one style of music to the next, but rather, complement each other as each song progresses – giving the listener a steady sound that begins with the first song and doesn’t waver through to the end. Only brilliance can take all of those genres and weave them into one continual flow of music! I think I’ve mentioned this before, but this recording is perfect for the season in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Christ Jesus!
On this recording, you will hear vocals from:
Tenor – Brian Free
Lead – Bill Shivers
Baritone – Derrick Selph
Bass – Keith Plott
Also, Band Members are:
Pianist – Scott McDowell
Drummer – Ricky Free
1. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
Feature: All four parts
Message: This arrangement focuses on the first and last verses of this classic Christmas Carol. It tells of that night when the angels leaned close to the earth and sang that glorious song of Christ’s birth while playing upon their golden harps. The first two stanzas of both the first and last verse are sung back to back, while the final one looks forward to the day when Christ will reign, and until then, the days hasten on. Then, the lyrics jump back to the third and fourth stanza’s of the first verse, and ends with the last few lines of the last verse.
Other Comments: Opening the project with a short accapella hymn, this one featured a little bit of everyone (so to speak). On one of the verses bass singer Keith Plott has a little solo, then all the vocals blend back together, but the song ends with Brian singing the last line of the hymn. That was one thing that I liked most about this cut, the arrangement kept you guessing who was going to sing next, and really featured more than just one singer!
2. The Season Of Love
Message: The lyrics reflect on the fact that if there is anything that is going to make this world a better place – it’s going to be the love of Christ. Christmas is usually a happy time of year, yet for some, it only makes what they lack stand out all the more …We see this in the first verse, where we find a homeless woman sleeping on the street, and a lonely orphan dreaming of what a home must be like on a blustery winter night. Why don’t we make this Christmas different for them, and take a special interest in their lives? – After all, a little support is all they really need. The chorus declares what Christmas really should be – the “season of love.” If Believers would communicate the reason behind the love of Jesus at this season, this world could potentially become a better place, and people would be more willing to work together! It really could happen, our world would change…but, it would require everyone pitching in and doing their part, giving a little of themselves. Then and only then, could the “season of love” be complete. In the second verse, we find a tree with a manger scene under it. (We might be tempted to think, But there is suppose to be presents under the tree!) – Well, there is! Jesus, He was the greatest gift ever given! I love the closing line that says, “This Christmas let’s let the world know, for all they really need is the love of God to set ’em free!” The bridge tells us that if we could just have this kind of a mindset, even when the mangers are packed away, the lights taken down and the tree undecorated, the real meaning of Christmas would live on throughout the whole year.
Other Comments: I love everything about this song, especially the way BFA does it – the track, BFA’s vocals, Derrick is featured on it and does an incredible job on the verses! It’s also note worthy that Brian sings the bridge by himself and Bill has the lead on the last chorus. The arrangement is perfect! Even though the other guys get some main lines toward the end, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is “Derrick’s solo.” Pure genius!
3. Hark The Harold Angels Sing
Message: The first verse of the old hymn beckons those present at Christ’s birth to join the praise of the angels in proclaiming, “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” The chorus we all know by heart, a simple proclamation, “Hark the herald angels sing – glory to the newborn King.” The second verse ponders how the “everlasting Lord,” the One who is heavens highest came to earth “veiled in flesh” – yet Deity. As a man Himself, satisfied to live among men, this is our Emmanuel! The third verse has to be my favorite though! It opens by summoning us to hail the Prince of Peace, the Light, Life and Righteousness of His person – “born that man no more may die – born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”
Other Comments: These lyrics by Charles Wesley are just beautiful! BFA sings all the verses, Brian singing the first two by himself, and the rest of Assurance sings the final verse as a trio. The contrast between the highs and lows are just right!
4. A Strange Way To Save The World
Message: This song looks at the birth of Jesus Christ by predicting what his earthly father, Joseph, must have thought on that first Christmas night. The first verse talks about the amazement that Joseph must have felt at the manger – looking down upon the little face that was the fulfillment of the angels prophecy, he probably would never have envisioned this path for himself! In the chorus, we get an picture of some things that were going through Joseph’s mind at that time. Why did God choose him for a earthly father? – he didn’t feel very special, he was just a carpenter! Why this little baby? (Surely, there were enough kings in this world, what made this One different?) Why Mary? – she was so young! And most of all, why in a dirty manger? The only answer that he could find is found in the last two lines of the chorus, and are pivotal lines of the song, “Now I’m not one to second guess, what angels have to say…but this is such a strange way, to save the world.” The second verse thinks on how different the first Christmas would have been if Jesus would have came as He deserved. Bethlehem would never have happened, ordinary people (especially the shepherds) would never have been permitted to have been there. Yet, through all of this Joseph knew why it had to be so…when he held baby Jesus for the first time. It’s hard not to wonder if the words to this chorus were running through his mind.
Other Comments: Recorded by many artists in a variety of musical spheres – this is one Christmas song with no genre attached to it! In Southern Gospel, BFA’s rendition tops all others (IMO!).
5. Do You Hear What I Hear?
Message: This song takes us on a four stage journey on the night of Christ’s birth. First, the wind whispers these words to a lamb in the open field, “Do you see what I see?” Up in the sky there was a special Star shimmering. Secondly, the sheep continues the story and “speaking” to the shepherd asks, “Do you hear what I hear?” – it was a song being sung high up in the air. Our shepherd boy takes the news to the king, and says, “Do you know what I know?” A special Baby is chilled from the cool night air, let us bring Him riches and precious gems. Finally, the king announces to his subjects, “Listen to what I say!” – and petitions a prayer for peace. The song ends with the climax, “A Child! A Child! Sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light…He will bring us goodness and light!”
Other Comments: This arrangement is everything you would expect from a song like this. A bass feature, just enough group vocals to tie it all together and a “magical” sounding track with chimes, flutes, and brass instruments to give the perfect effect for the song!
6. White Christmas
Feature: All four parts
Message: This song focuses on what everyone looks forward to seeing on Christmas Day – a nice snowy white Christmas! In the lyrics, we get a picture of someone imagining a “white Christmas,” like the kind we were so familiar with in childhood. Snow shimmering off the tree tops and children eagerly listening for Santa’s jingling sleigh – this is the kind of Christmas you’re dreaming of! As these thoughts are kept in mind during the “Christmas card writing sessions” we all have, it inspires the greeting which reads, “May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.” A short instrumental of the melody plays before going back into the song, and finishing it off with the chorus!
Other Comments: This rendition of White Christmas adds a peaceful, calming effect to the project. Just makes you want to curl up by a fireplace with a book!…or go play in the snow!
7. Christmas Shoes
Message: This song was inspired by the Christmas movie Christmas Shoes, and gives a little synopsis of what the story is all about. In the first verse, a shopper is in line at the store, and as the lyric says, “not really in the Christmas mood.” Then they notice a boy in front of him, pacing around with a pair of shoes in his hands. Upon closer inspection, we see that he’s dirty and his clothes have definitely seen a better day. But just like his clothes, his mind was a lot wiser than what his age would’ve guessed, and when it came his turn at the counter, our shopper was amazed at this child’s thoughtfulness. The chorus is a retelling of what the boy told the clerk: “I wanna’ buy these shoes, for my mama please, it’s Christmas time and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir? – Daddy says there’s not much time…ya’ see, she’s been sick for quite a while, and, I know these shoes will make her smile…and I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight.” The second verse begins with our inpatient shopper again! The counting of pennies the boy was paying with took what “seemed like years,” in their opinion, until the clerk announced that there wasn’t enough. The boy desperately searched his pockets for more, but he didn’t have any, so he turned to our shopper and began explaining the condition of his mother. She always made Christmas special, but sickness disabled her from the seasonal joys the last few years, and the boy went on to ponder how he was going to purchase those shoes for her! Struck with compassion, our shopper made up the difference and was impacted by the simple joy he say in the boy’s face, knowing that his mother would have those shoes as a gift that year. The bridge sums up the spiritual theme of the song, and is worthy to repeat: “I caught a glimpse of heaven’s love, as he thanked me and ran out – I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me of what Christmas is all about.”
Other Comments: Though this song is a little sad, it has a little glimmer of hope, and reminds us of the reality, that Christmas isn’t always an easy time of year for some families to get through.
8. Carol Of The Bells
Feature: All four parts
Message: This Ukrainian Christmas Carol builds a song based off a very different concept – bells! The lyrics look at the world of Christmas through the various sights and sounds you would hear from a Christmas bell. It talks about their “song” – “ding – dong – ding,” and how they seem to bring “words of cheer” that “fill the air.” Merry, merry, merry Christmas!
Other Comments: This little song about bells really packs in the creativity on the musical scale! The “ding-dong” parts impersonating the bells is always a favorite on this song, and I can’t help but notice when they sing the line, “Oh, how they pound, raising the sound” – the music also rises with intensity, and the tenor part takes a leap up on the high end. The music in this song matches the lyrics with an accuracy that just brings it to life! Listen for some of those things next time you hear it!
9. Silent Night
Message: This timeless hymn by Joseph Mohr gives a description of the what the night must have been like on the Lord‘s birth. The first verse tells of the night itself – silent, holy, calm. Around the manger, the song is sweetly sung, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” The second verse recounts the experience of the shepherds. What must they have thought when the heavenly host of angels appeared to them? Mr. Mohr writes that they “quaked at the sight.” The angels announced that the Savior was born! The third verse focuses on the Savior Himself. He was the Son of God, He was light…how the beams of light must have radiated off His holy face on that night! These are some of the things that must have happened on His birth.
Other Comments: BFA sings the first three of this four verse song, and begins it slowly, almost using the speed of the music to reflect the solemnest of that first holy, silent night. Bill sings the first verse, but on the second stanza the rest of the guys join him and harmonize together, giving the arrangement a nice thick quartet sound. On the third and final verse, the music modulates, going up to a higher key for the lyrics about the Lord Himself. (How appropriate!)