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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Best of 2008

I’ve kind of taken a break from the blog for the past month. I like listening to cheesy Christmas music which doesn’t necessarily warrant reviews. This year I enjoyed two new Christmas albums (new to me, they were both 2007 releases): Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs, and Mindy Smith’s My Holiday. All this to say, I don’t have any new reviews at the moment, and my music budget is spent for a few weeks…But I always like to do a year-end review. So here I have my favorite albums and songs of 2008:

Best albums of 2008:

1. Son Lux, At War with Walls and Mazes

By far my favorite album of the year.

2. Lecrae, Rebel

Christian rap was introduced to me for the first time this year and it changed my perspective on music.

3. Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks

Despite the criticism West received for this album and even my own hesitations, it remains tops in my mind for its unconventional yet accessible attitude and sound.

4. Cold Play, Viva la Vida, or Death and all His Friends

5. Nothing stands out. I could put the Twilight soundtrack, or Fireflight’s Unbreakable, but while they are good…they just don’t stick out in my mind. I guess I only have a top 4.

Best Songs of 2008:

1. Black is the Color (DJQ’s Club Edit),  2Devine vs Cara Dillon

This might seem random to you unless you know me in real life. It is just a silly techno song remix but I loooove it and listened to it constantly since I found it. Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair is an old Scottish folk song. Many singers have covered it and in this version, Cara Dillon, an Irish folk singer, does the honors. I don’t know if Cara and 2Devine made a deal or if 2Devine just took a copy and remixed it with beats. Either way it is an unlikely combination, folk singing and techno, but somehow it works and is beautiful.

2. Son Lux, Wither

3. Chris Brown, Forever

Again, this might seem like a surprise unless you know me in real life. I just love how innocent, dancy, poppy and romantic it sounds. 

4. Lecrae feat. Sho Baraka, Live Free

5. Blue Foundation, Eyes on Fire

On the Twilight soundtrack. Perfectly melancholy and chilling. (myspace)

Honorable Mention: Oceanlab, On a Good Day, Kanye West, Love Lockdown, and Lecrae, Rebel Intro

If I had unlimited money and time I would have gotten around to listening to/reviewing :

1. Girl Talk, Feed the Animals (myspace)

2. Apparat, Walls, (listen for free)

3. Thievery Corporation, Radio Retaliation (myspace)