When I received an email announcing the new Christmas album by Jars of Clay, I immediately pre-ordered it; Jars of Clay is my favorite band and I am a sucker for Christmas music. Part of my excitement was fueled by Jars of Clay’s Little Drummer Boy single, which remains one of my favorite Christmas songs. Each year I buy at least one Christmas album to supplement my itunes Christmas playlist. I was so excited about the album that I broke my rule of not listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving so I could sample the album when I first received it. To my dismay I was disappointed at first listen. The album seemed overly somber. The two most traditional songs on the album, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” and “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” do not resemble the songs we sing in church each Advent season. A month later it was still the first album I got out to listen to as I prepared blueberry pancakes the morning of Black Friday.
With each subsequent listen I am growing to love this album more and more. The tone of the album is set with the first song, an original Jars of Clay composition called “The Gift of St. Cecilia”; it is a deliberately haunting, yet undeniably holiday tune. Standout songs on the album are a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and the classic “Christmastime is Here”. The songs are almost somber, not in a dark way but rather in a way that reveals the careful, contemplative crafting that was undertaken in their composition. It is this care that makes the album a joy to listen to and a new treasure in my Christmas collection.