This has to be one of the COOLEST Christmas albums I’ve heard in a while. Lately it seems like everyone has been doing a Christmas album because it’s something that is easy to do in the “Off Season”. This one however, has so much heart, talent, craft and love packed into, that its bound to leave its mark on anyone who hears it. I had the opportunity to chat with Chris Hoisington about the heart and process behind this project, and boy was there a lot of both. So much thought and detail went into it in all aspects, even all the way down to the picture felt album cover. As well as having ballad tunes on this project, the Brothers McClurg have produced some very sweet instrumental pieces as well. “Going Back to Bethlehem” has something to offer to almost any listener. Here is my take on the top four most congregational tunes on the album.
Let it Be Me//
The word that came to mind was “Nostalgia.” This song on the album was obviously produced in such away, as to replicate an old vinyl record, in order to bring the listener back to a by-gone era of songs and production. Beyond the artistic production however, the song its self is a beautiful retelling of the story of Mary being told that she would bring our Savior into this world. The song was artfully crafted in such away, that it takes Mary’s prayer of “Lord Let it be me” and flips it, and puts that same prayer into the mouth of the singer (or listener ) within the context of our lives today.
Worship set wise, this would be a great last song of your opening set in your Christmas eve service. It prepares the congregations hearts by reflecting on the story and tradition of Christmas, while applying the strong lyrical hook of “Let it be me” to their own lives. It’s a great mixture of celebration and surrender.
Nuts and Bolts.
Arrangement wise, this song is very simple with a lot of reliance on dampened rhythm guitar. It can be very easily done with just an acoustic guitar, a striped down drum kit and a couple vocals. On the record though, it’s got some steel and electric guitars with some old fashion organ thrown in to add some really nice flavor. The over-all stylization of this song lends its self to being done in a strait up traditional hymnal style of worship service, or also to be broken apart and rebuilt, to give it a more modern worship twist.
This song is just sweet. Its super honest and raw from both a lyrical and melodic perspective. This song was recorded in a “A round the Mic style”, giving it a very intimate and worshipful feel. This is a classic “prayer song”, meaning it is written and sung vertically as if one were to pray it.
Worship Set wise, This would be a great opener, or mid set song for a Christmas eve service. It introduces the Christmas story while brings the congregation to a immediate place of remembrance and reflection on who God is. This song would be ideal to help set the tone for a great service. On the other hand, this song could also be a great way to switch gears in your set. You could start with a more upbeat opener, then use this song to transition into the more intimate/ deeper part of the worship experience, while maintaining a festive yet vertical atmosphere.
Nuts and Bolts
This song is done with just a couple of voices and guitars. One or two acoustics just hold down some basic rhythm and finger picking, while another does some simple lead/fill work. The vocals consist of just the melody and a simple “Third” or “middle” harmony.
Going Back to Bethlehem//
This song has the vibe of a great traditional Christmas hymn. It immediately flashed me back to sitting in the wooden pews at the little country church I attended with my parents for a while as a kid. It’s a simple song that reminds us of Christmas traditions we might have had growing up, while more importantly reminds us of the purity and simplicity of the Christmas story. Its setting and style might not fit into the mold of a modern worship tune, but its designed to be nostalgic, and to spark a new appreciation for the musical traditions of Christmas, as well as what the true meaning behind why and what we celebrate . “Of all the places that I’ve been, I just need to get back to Bethlehem. ”
Worship set wise, this would fit great into a traditional style Christmas service, or as a special music piece, due to the style and arrangement.
Nuts and Bolts
This tune has a great blend of acoustic guitars and traditional organ (to give it its fantastic Christmas hymn feel), and is all tied together with a nice light 3/4 shuffle. Over all this song is very approachable no matter the level of your team. This tune also makes nice use of dynamics. Keep in mind though, this song never goes “wide open” or “full throttle” as some of its more “Modern Worship” styled counterparts do. Think “Airy” as a general rule of thumb as you approach doing this song.
This song is probably my personal favorite on the album. It has a such a great anthemic, yet organic feel to it. “Rejoice! Emanuel- God with us.” Again here is another great “vertical” song that has a very sing able melody as well as reflective yet still festive lyrics.
Worship set wise, this would be a great closing song in your opening set. Its ballad like arrangement mixed with the reflective nature of the lyrics make it a great response song. Ideally you would have a couple of other songs in your set creating dynamic to build up to this point of release (or climax) in your worship set. just like a great song has dynamics to it, a good set has to have dynamics as well. This song would nicely tie together a set, in order to switch gears into the sermon/speaker element of a Christmas service.
Nuts and Bolts
As far as the arrangement of this song is concerned, it’s very unique but yet very familiar. It opens out on a six minor chord, giving it some really nice flavor right out of the gate. It’s very straight forward and easily accessible to any level of band. It does have some really nice vocal counter melodies for you and your team to play with as well.