By BRUCE DENNILL
Darlene Zschech & Hope UC: The Table – A Christmas Worship Gathering
Various Artists: Christmas Journey
Various Artists: Top 25 Classic Christmas – Silent Night
Being one of the bigger names in a particular genre obviously has its perks, but one of the hurdles for those in this position to overcome is defying defined expectations each time a new project is released. Darlene Zschech is a stalwart of the worship music circuit, but this album is very much a collaborative effort with the music team she oversees at Hope Unlimited Church in New South Wales, Australia, and new voices and styles ensure that The Table is not either a predictably Zschech-styled affair nor indeed a run-of-the-mill Christmas album. Production throughout is bright and airy, and many of the featured vocalists – Beth Gleeson, Pati Telea, Coco Gleeson and Katie Smith among them – have clean, pure voices that complement that backing. The bulk of the carols have been updated with strong additional refrains or combined in medleys (Angels We Have Heard On High/ Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is a particularly effective mix, adding listener interest for anyone for whom the originals have lost meaning through repetition. And the original songs – The Mystery, Emmanuel (Glory To God) and the title track are all enjoyable and easy to get into the first time you hear them and so easy to assimilate into their more familiar sonic surroundings. The Table is a useful worship resource and both edifying and entertaining to listen to.
Another year, another compilation – it’s difficult to put a truly fresh spin on Christmas music, particularly when the foundation of a collection is a group of standards. Christmas Journey does just about enough to convince listeners with a collection of similar albums that it’s a worthwhile addition with some interesting interpretations of established favourites and a couple of newer numbers. Kari Jobe’s When Hope Came Down is a strong starter in the latter category, with Chris Tomlin’s Noel, expertly sung by Lauren Daigle, one of the best recent additions to this canon. Kutless use some pleasingly alternatively chord choices for their take on It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, TobyMac adds a hip hop edge to Little Drummer Boy and Amy Grant brings some sophisticated timing ideas to O Come All Ye Faithful. And Matt Redman brings the best of both worlds together with his medley of O Little Town and The Glory Of Christmas. Those are the highlights, and the rest will add superior padding to your existing Yuletide playlist.
Compilations are great in certain contexts, with the month (or whatever period you deem appropriate) before Christmas a gap that fans of feeling festive and/or considering the story behind the season often want to fill with themed music. As such, 25 songs in a single package is useful. However, in a market flooded with new and imaginative interpretations of all the standards included here (bar, perhaps, Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming – that’s not a common inclusion), Top 25 Classic Christmas, a selection of Maranatha Music recordings, sounds old-fashioned (not a problem; taste varies) and often dated (which is a problem, as many listeners will make a quality judgement based on the relative style or freshness of production on other titles). If you have a nostalgic tie to Maranatha or like your carols especially low-key and gently, this may work for you.