Daniel Renstrom (Twitter) contacted me early last year and asked if I would be willing to review his EP, Adore and Tremble. Not knowing Daniel or his music I emailed and said I would listen and say something on the blog if I liked it, but no promises since I don't like much Christian music. He kindly sent the CD anyway and I really, really liked it and still listen to it. Check my brief take on Adore and Tremble from March of last year.
Daniel contacted me again a few weeks ago and told me he has a new Christmas album called On The Incarnation (OTI). I can't listen to Christmas CD's before Thanksgiving. I mean, seriously. But after enjoying his previous album I couldn't say no. My only stipulation for the review was that it couldn't include "My Favorite Things." Robert Goulet, after all, offered us the definitive rendition.
On The Incarnation released on 10.29. Eight songs, obviously selected and written to encourage worship and not just good seasonal feelings. This is a theology-minded Christmas album. Reflective.
First let me talk about a few Christmas staples on the album. "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" is joyous and upbeat. The popping strum of a mandolin colors this song folksy and fun. Love it. "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" surprised me. I'm used to it being a collective, jolly sounding song like at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. Daniel offers a beautiful, quieter, more contemplative version. Just great. "Angels We Have Heard On High" has an updated, worship band feel to it. It feels like a Sojourn song, which I mean as a high compliment. I'm not a musician and I don't want to explain this wrong, but it seems to have a minor key worked into the song that isn't in the traditional version. That tweaks the feel of the song which I think is pretty cool. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a short, music-only song leading into Daniel's song, "Rise and Fall."
The new songs written by Renstrom are excellent. The album begins with "His Company," calling us to sing because Jesus is our Immanuel...
Who has believed
This message we have loved
Invisible God, came in flesh from above
Mighty, wonderful God, Prince of Peace
Bringing sight to the lost, calling us to sing
Join oh join the angel melody
God with man is pleased to dwell
Sing confess, with all His company
Jesus our Immanuel
"Rise and Fall" will likely be the most recognizable song off the album. It's the most curious sounding. I can't listen to it without cranking up the volume and bass. What a great reminder, missing in the consumer Christmas world as well as too often in our churches, that the birth of Jesus wasn't just about joy. It threatened those who oppose. Here's the whole song...
The dawn of the light
Is breaking tonight
At the birth of this dangerous King
And shepherds and kings
Bow down and sing
At the birth of this dangerous King
Many will rise and fall
At the birth of this King, the birth of this King
Those who oppose
Stumble on this stone
The birth of this dangerous King
But many will hear
Believing in fear
Will hope in this dangerous King
"Comfort Ye" has a more traditional sound. It starts acoustic and quiet with a hint of a rising and fading ambient sound behind it, eventually leading to the mountaintop of music and lyric that deserves exclamation points...
Immanuel / God with us / Son of God / Hallelujah
But the worshipful conclusion above doesn't come without a recognition of our responsibility to the world. It's preceded by...
In Christ we know hope for the hurting
In Christ we know love for the lost
In Christ we know no other one can save
The short, closing song is "Divine Messiah." It's a simple, short and quiet piano song expressing a longing for Messiah.
The truly great thing about On The Incarnation is that it doesn't repel you when you are not in a Christmas season mood. It's a gift from Renstrom that we can hear it outside the season and still enjoy it. I played the album for the kids in the car on the way to Louisville two weeks ago. Four songs in they said, "Are you sure these are Christmas songs?" The answer is yes, in the best sense.
On The Incarnation will make a great addition to your music library. It will be a blessing for Sunday morning worship in the weeks to come. You may want to give it as a gift to a Christian who needs to get beyond "Winter Wonderland" or a non-Christian who needs the Gospel.