Thursday, November 05, 2009
This was the third new Christmas release to arrive at my P.O. Box. Unfortunately, no press sheet or additional material accompanied the CD. So it was off to their Facebook page to find some threads of info off their wall. A post on October 25th states "this album is currently the top-selling holiday album at CD Baby!"
I clicked on the CDBaby link and found the answer to several of my questions:
"Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee is a Chicagoland collective of musicians led by composer Matthew Prins. The group incorporates classical, folk, new-age, orchestral, jazz, and minimalist influences into their progressive interpretations of familiar works.
"Featuring 19 new holiday arrangements and compositions by composer Matthew Prins, Noël fuses a myriad of influences into a Christmas album quite unlike any heard before. Performed primarily by Prins and multi-instrumentalist A.J. Nelson, Noël features a harmonious blend of hand bells, hand chimes, carillon, strings, woodwinds, and brass, as well as the talents of vocalist Amy Yassinger."
While there, I found yet another review from the good folks at ChristmasReviews.com:
"With just a hint of new age drama and a gentle heart, Nöel is touching in its understated brilliance....[T]he most striking fact about Nöel is its integral construction and execution. The tracks flow seamlessly, one into the next, and remind one of butter being stirred into hot fudge, swirling and glistening, warm and sweet."
Well... this could be interesting...
1.) Verbum supernum, prodiens.
Played on the carillon and lasting 39 seconds... understated intros are sometimes the best!
2.) O come, all ye faithful.
The different arrangements sound amazing but as it moved past the four minute mark, I was done.
3.) The holly and the ivy.
This instrumental is beautifully constructed and executed with all elements firing on all cylinders.
4.) Good Christian men, rejoice.
A 21st century take on a 14th century carol - excellente!
5.) Who mourns in lowly exile here.
Take the first few measures of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and repeat. Different.
6.) Infant holy, infant lowly.
Another well-constructed carol - very good work all around.
7.) Carol of the bells.
Harp, hand bells, chimes, carillon, soft piano all meld together into a great instrumental version of this song. Skipping back to hear it again...
8.) God bless ye merry, gentlemen.
Right as I was thinking "it's stretching a bit" around the 2:30 mark, Yassinger's sweet vocals arrive. Good save!
9.) And ransom captive Israel.
The woodwinds on this track make the song - a definite change of sound! I like the way they keep playing with the arrangements...
10.) Let all mortal flesh be silence.
The steady cannon drumbeat and church bells with snatches of "The First Noel" coming through gives this one ambiance deluxe!
11.) 'Twas in the moon of wintertime.
I thought I had switched on Mike Oldfield for a moment... another well done, well arranged carol!
12.) O come, o come, Emmanuel.
This one lasts just around 1:30... why so short?
13.) What child is this?
Shades of Philip Glass! This one's going to need several re-listens as well... Amazing track from start to finish!
14.) Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella.
At 36 seconds long, this is the shortest track on the CD.
15.) Sleep, holy babe.
Very pretty - I will need to look for this carol in my church hymnal and show it to the music director there.
16.) Until the Son of God appears.
Some of these tracks have a transition feel to it (see tracks 5, 12, and 14 above) and I'm guessing this is one of them.
17.) Holy night.
A re-working of "Silent Night" that I didn't warm up to at first. After another listen, it clicked - nicely done.
18.) Rejoice, rejoice... o Israel.
The transitions culminate with this loop track that repeats over and over and over...
19.) Benedictus Agnus Dei (hundredfold).
Which leads into this loop track (6:45 !!) that's a disappointing way to end the CD.
When I first got this CD, I had my doubts - the track list looked very public domain. The fact that really scared me was CDBaby's recommendation that if you like Mannheim Steamroller, you'd like this album. After listening to this, I'm glad to report it's nothing like Steamroller's synthesized purile pop.
Producer/arranger/musician Matthew Prins really deserves a congratulatory pat on the back. There are some tracks on this album that are sheer artistry and deserve to be heard. He chose some wonderful carols forgotten by the passing of time (when was the last time you heard "Good Christian men, rejoice" on the radio at Christmas time?) and given them new life.
Yes, there were some tracks that rambled but I'm willing to overlook them. Emmanuel Shall could have made a Christmas CD with the usual mix of safe carols and Christmas pop standards. Instead, they made a unique album that mixes new age, jazz, orchestra, and even minimalism with Christmas. Listen for yourself - click on the link!
Kudos to Prins, A.J. Nelson, and Amy Yassinger for top notch work!