Jars of Clay- Christmas Songs, and Mindy Smith- My Holiday

Jars of Clay- Christmas Songs

Quality: 4

Clean: 5

Genre: Christmas, alternative, rock

I haven’t kept up with Jars of Clay that much since their first release in 1995. They have been prolific since then however and carved out a little niche for themselves in the alternative-Christian sector. Their Christmas album, Christmas, Songs, was released in 2007 but I didn’t pick it up until the end of the season last year, so didn’t really listen to it until this year.

One of the ways I personally try to keep Christmas fresh and meaningful is to pick a favorite Christmas carol every year. I do this by listening to the words of the carol, thinking about them and celebrating the truth that is contained within them the entire season. Past favorites have been O Holy Night, and Come Oh Come Emanuel. I seem to like the dark reminder that the reason Jesus was born was because of sin. Remembering sin and its ugliness helps me truly celebrate the hope of Jesus’ birth. This year, as I listened to Jars of Clay’s rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I was struck by the modern reminder of sin and hope. I had never paid attention to the words, especially the second verse,  until I was reading the liner notes to this album.

In despair I bowed my head,
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of  peace on earth good will to men,
of peace on earth good will to men,
of peace on earth good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, good will to men.

I was struck with what a common thought this must be among people. That there is no peace and hate is strong, but that Christmas presents an answer, a hope for us all to cling to.

After listening closely to I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, I read the back of the liner notes jacket: In the Christmas Season, here are ways to celebrate peace in the midst of chaos (insert list of charities), and I realized that this was their theme: Peace in the midst of chaos. Instead of putting a smattering of Christmasy songs together to make a buck, JOC had actually put thought into the album, had come up with a theme, and most of the songs represented that theme. Peace is Here, In the Bleak Midwinter, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, even God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. There is a fair share of just plain fun songs, for example: Hibernation song. But for the most part the album is reminding us that there is peace in the midst of chaos.

The music of this album is characteristic of JOC, containing a hint of strings, solid guitar and percussion, and even some Christmasy sounding bells/chimes at parts. There is a balance between organic real instruments and electronic elements. In the Bleak Midwinter is a highlight musically as it contains a beautiful horn part. Drummer Boy is also a hit with its minimal drum beats at the begging and then climaxing with a really fun snare part in the second half of the song. JOC keep the album interesting but not too crazy. It would be appropriate to put on for the rents and even g-rents.

Christmas Songs has been my favorite Christmas album this year, and I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone who likes Christmas music.

Mindy Smith- My Holiday

Quality: 3

Clean: 4

Genre: Christmas, folk, alt-country

Mindy Smith’s My Holiday is another “new to me” release from 2007. I normally like her style. Its a little country, but not too much for a non-country fan like me to be put off. Its more folky, which I like. Her voice and lyrics are sweet. My Holiday however didn’t sound Christmasy to me. It could have been any other album, it was a little too country and a little too bland. I didn’t pick up on a theme, which always increases my enjoyment, and the songs were more just fun, sugary, happy happy.

My favorite song would probably be the forlornly sung The Christmas Song because it sounds the most like a Christmas song with strong piano and jazzy percussion and even a clarinet solo.

It is a nice album, but I haven’t played it much. It doesn’t stand out in my Christmas album collection but I’ll play it a few times each year.

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