In retrospect, it did feel weird sitting in my car with my pumpkin flavored coffee, cruising to work listening to Christmas music…in October. But over all I was quite captivated by the arrangements, so much so, that as I listened, I seemed to forget it was a Christmas worship album and not just a worship album I was listening to. Before I dive in, I do have to say as a preface to all of this, that I am a huge Baloche fan boy. So, I will ATTEMPT to make this album review as unbiased as possible. What Paul has done is really very unique but yet difficult to do. He has blended traditional Christmas melodies and lyrics with well known and loved choruses from songs he’s written or co written over the past two decades.
I will only be hitting what I humbly deemed to be the top 4 Songs on the album in this review. (Trust me it wasn’t easy to pick. ) This by no means is to say that the rest of the songs are not note worthy or shouldn’t to be listened to and done in your congregation. I encourage all of you to go buy the album!
Joy to the World – Our God Saves
My first thought was ” This is not your typical arrangement for joy to the world…but it works!” It is very vocal/ harmonies focused with very little instrumentation, giving it a subdued and almost ethereal vibe. This arrangement makes it very easily accessible for either a living room or stadium setting. In this version, Baloche has blended the verses of Joy to the World with the Pre-chorus and Chorus from his song Our God Saves.
Worship Set wise, I was hesitant to place it as a opening song (As would be expected when doing either of these songs in their original arrangements, due to the more subdued nature of this arrangement. After thinking it through however, this version is better suited as an opening song for a Christmas eve type service versus a Christmas celebration service, because of its more intimate nature.
Nuts and Bolts//
instrumentally this arrangement is very accessible to any level of band. Its driven by a straight forward percussion and acoustic guitar over a soft pad. The trick is going to be working through the harmonies, seeing they are what makes this arrangement.
For Unto Us a Child is Born – Open the Eyes of My Heart
The word “Nice” kept escaping my mouth as I first listened to this arrangement. For those of you who are familiar with classic Baloche stuff, this arrangement encompasses everything from some B3 organ mixed with ringing open guitar chords, tied together with a straight four to the floor groove, while adding a pinch of cello and delayed electric guitars. In this version Baloche has very nicely blended the versus from a old Christmas hymn with his classic chorus from “Open the eyes of My Heart.”
Worship set wise this is a great opening song. It brings in all the dynamics and energy of a full band and is very declarative in reminding us why we are gathered to worship, while celebrating our saviors birth.
Nuts and Bolts//
This arrangement is very straight forward. the key is going to be getting your layers, and octaves right. You have your pad and keys holding the high octaves while your guitars and vocals carry the mids. There are a few moving parts and counter melodies, so be careful to not overcomplicate it. Keep it simple.
Angels From the Realms of Glory – Emmanuel
THIS IS THE CHRISTMAS ANTHEM WE ARE ALL LOOKING FOR ON THIS ALBUM. It again encompasses everything found in a Baloche classic. its honest, simple praise that stirs your heart to worship. In this tune Baloche has blended the classic verses from “Angels from the Realm of Glory” with a new Christmas chorus using the melody from his song “Hosanna.”
Worship set wise this is the big celebrative opener that we all picture when we think Christmas service. The musical energy alone brings you to a place of immediate awe, then mix lyrics like, ” Come and worship…Come and worship Christ the new born King…God is with us, even now his love is here.” Or “Emanuel Emanuel come have your way among us, we welcome you here Lord Jesus. ” and you have a big Christmas opener that packs a punch.
Nuts and Bolts//
Like its original arrangement, this song is very guitar and rhythm heavy. The key is going to be getting the dynamics and builds right. Your team will need to know when to “Go Big” and when to bring it close and suggestive for this song to have full impact. This version also lends itself very easily to be done by a celebration choir if you are looking for a Christmas choral piece.
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – Glorious
“Beautiful” is the word that comes to mind. This arrangement has very tastefully blended the classic “It Came upon aMidnight Clear” with the Chorus from Paul’s song “Glorious.”
Worship Set wise, this song is a killer second song in your set or a great set closer. As a number two song, it helps propel a Christmas service from a celebratory opening into the meat of the worship set. The ballad nature of the lyrics remind the congregation of the Christmas story, while the chorus brings you to a place to respond to the retelling of the birth of our King. It also works well as a service closer in the sense that it recaps what we have celebrated in the service while leaving the congregation reflecting on the Christmas story and the profoundness who our God is.
Nuts and Bolts//
The biggest element of note about this song is that its in 3/4 time. The song is mainly driven by acoustic guitar with all the instruments really just adding fill and texture. If you have a small acoustic team or if you are leading a service by yourself, this song is very accessible. However, if you wish to do the album arrangement, you will either need a violin or a cello, to help by filling the counter-melodies, or a couple of good “string” keyboard patches would suffice .