The following is based on a real conversation I had this morning with my intern, Jordan:
Me: Good morning, what’s new?
Jordan: I think most of your readers think you’re dead
Me: What? Why?!
Jordan: Because you haven’t posted anything about the new Sidewalk Prophets Christmas CD and it’s been over a week since it came out. I’m starting to get a lot of angry e-mail.
Me: It’s just October 2nd! I’ve been busy with the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus thing, and the Scott Stapp thing, and I’ve got Royal Tailor work to do and besides I just posted a blog yesterday! I assumed I had at least until after Halloween to put something up on the blog about a Christmas CD!
Jordan: (shaking his head) Beth, you of all people should know by now how those Sidewalk Prophet fans are since you are one of them…(Jordan takes his pointer finger and makes a circular motion around the side of his head) Cra-zay!
Me: (I don’t say anything. I just pick up a file and throw it at him.)
I stewed over Jordan’s insinuations for a little while that I might be perceived as either dead or crazy, then I moved on to other more pressing issues. In fact, I had almost forgotten about the debacle of the morning completely when I checked my e-mail this evening. There, sitting atop a pile of 900+ other messages in my inbox was a message entitled “Sidewalk Prophets Merry Christmas To You on Fervent Records” from a record label publicity manager.
My reaction was, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Apparently, the universe wants me to post a blog about this CD today, so buckle up ’cause here we go!
First let’s get my one and only critique out of the way. (I know, I know, this is shocking, because I normally never critique anything, particularly not the Sidewalk Prophets…horror of horrors! Please don’t send me hate mail!)
I’m not sure I like the album cover artwork.
There, I said it.
When my friend Jill called to tell me that she had bought a copy of the CD last week, she made the comment that cover was, and this is a direct quote, “whimsically fun and kind of creepy all at the same time”. I didn’t know what that meant until I saw a .pdf of the cover today. Now, I think “creepy” might be a bit harsh, but “whimsical”, yes, I can definitely see that.
Here’s the good news, though…this is a music blog, NOT an art blog, so I could really care less about the cover art. What I care about is the content of the tunage contained on the CD tucked away inside the cover art.
With that being said, I feel like I need to say upfront that my expectations for this project by the Sidewalk Prophets may have been unfairly sky high. Usually, I try to keep my expectations ridiculously low so I’m not disappointed all the time, but in all honesty, 2 of my very favorite neo-classic Christmas songs, Hope Was Born This Night and Because Its Christmas, are Sidewalk Prophets tunes. If the Sidewalk Prophets didn’t knock this new project out of the park, I was going to be epically disappointed; like, so-disappointed-I-might-consider-boycotting-Christmas-this-year-and-proceed-directly-to-Easter disappointed.
Well, I’m happy to tell you that not only is Christmas on like Donkey Kong in 2013, my ancient Harry Connick Jr When My Heart Finds Christmas CD and Michael Buble Christmas CD will definitely have some fierce competition for rotation in the old CD player come December.
Merry Christmas to You, much like the album cover, is whimsical and fun, but that is where the similarities (thankfully) end; the CD is packed with 12 songs, some old, some new, and my two favorite neo-classics. Each song shows a distinctive creative flair and a passion for music, two of the hallmarks of any Sidewalk Prophets album and two of the traits that I might argue that progressively endear this unlikely group of lyricists and musicians to fans with each subsequent musical release.
Let me address a few of the high points of this project, at least from my perspective:
Listening to Merry Christmas to You, I am sort of struck by how merry the CD actually sounds. If you think about it, that isn’t always the case with Christmas albums. Sometimes, Christmas music sounds more like dirge than the happy and joyous event it is. I think Merry Christmas to You really captures the merry essence of Christmas just perfectly, even in typically more solemn songs like What Child is This and Silent Night. Plus, what is not to like about a CD that incorporates the kazoo? Seriously, that’s awesome. I love the kazoo!
With that being said, let me be clear about one thing: even though Merry Christmas to You sounds very merry indeed, it doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that warm the heart and, quite possibly, wet the face. (For me, that moment came early in the song What a Glorious Night…I’m known to cry like a baby when Linus tells the true meaning of Christmas found in Luke 2:8-24.) If A Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t your thing, you might enjoy (read: get emotional) over the song Hey Moon. I think Hey Moon may soon by joining Hope Was Born This Night and Because Its Christmas on my short list of neo-classics.
So, it’s not a well kept secret that I LOVE it when bands re-do hymnal or other traditional “church” music with a more modern twist; both Kutless and MercyMe have put out great examples of this type of album in last few years. Needless to say, when I saw my two traditional favorite Christmas hymns listed as tracks on Merry Christmas to You, Silent Night and What Child is This, I was excited (and rightfully so!)
I love what the Sidewalk Prophets did with these two songs; if I could draw a big red heart and a happy face on my blog right HERE to show you how much I liked it, I would. I’ve never heard a rendition of What Child Is This quite like this one before, and I was enchanted by it. I thought it was lovely, to say the least.
As for Silent Night, well…it was beautiful. Magical. Perfect. Brought tears to my eyes, and I promise you, I am not a crier. Simple and elegant, and fit for the King of Kings. To me, no other version of Silent Night will ever top this one.
Now as much as I love listening to music, I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a technically trained ear to be able to pick out most musical instruments. I know enough to get by, but for me to be able to say, for example, “Hey, in the 25th measure on the 2nd beat in the 4th track, that was some epic drumming, Justin! Right on!”
I know, I’m a disappointment, but at least I’m honest, right? 🙂
This leaves me with a limited number of things I can comment on without sounding like an idiot, such as cover art work, song lyrics, and, well, singing. Unfortunately for lead singer Dave, this means I am going to pick on him for a little bit. (Okay, not really!)
It’s no secret that Dave can sing; in fact, if I had a dollar for every time someone in my hometown of New Haven has come up to me since the Sidewalk Prophets played a show here in June and said, “Man, that guy could sing!” I could be sitting under a big umbrella on a beach somewhere reading a good book instead of writing this blog.
Alas, here I sit on my couch in good old Indiana.
My point is, if I had to come up with something that truly disappoints me about Merry Christmas to You, it’s this: the vocals are so, so good on this album, its truly bittersweet that the album is seasonal and only meant to be enjoyed 2, maybe 3 months max a year.
Yeah, so thanks a lot, Dave, thanks a lot. (I kid, I kid!)
I like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur of Christmas music; I’ve been known to break out the Michael Buble and Jingle Bells in the middle of July just because I feel like it. I find that a lot of the time, however, when artists put out a Christmas album, the results are sub-par. Ho hum. Blasé. Yawn.
I’m so happy this was not the case with Merry Christmas to You. The Sidewalk Prophets remained true to the message of Linus in his iconic opening monologue, creating a sweet treasury of holiday tunes that everyone will enjoy. These songs seem to capture not only what the Christmas season is all about, but in a small way, what the Sidewalk Prophets represent all year long: loving the family we are blessed with, caring for the friends we meet along the way, cherishing the memories we have from days gone by and sharing the hope that only comes from the baby that was born on that first Christmas for the days that still remain.
Yes indeed, my dear readers, Christmas has come early this year. Whether you are a fan of the Sidewalk Prophets matters not; if you have a working set of ears, Merry Christmas to You is a must-have CD for your musical library.