Josh Garrels released his first album in 2002. Now, 14 years and several albums later, he offers us his seasoned perspective on the Christmas season with his first Christmas album.
To combat a wary listener who has heard countless artists attempt to provide fresh perspective to classic Christmas tunes, Josh Garrels mixes several types of songs across the 15 tracks of this album. He sings popular Christmas carols including “What Child Is This,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and “O Holy Night.” He also finds old Christmas carols many listeners may not be familiar with, such as “The Virgin Mary Had One Son” as well as “The Boar’s Head,” a 15th-century English carol with a mixture of Latin and English. Garrels also covers a few contemporary Christmas songs such as “May You Find the Light” and “O Day of Peace.” And finally, he took time to write several original Christmas songs, including the title track “The Light Came Down.”
An air of melancholy appears throughout the album, especially from Garrels’ vocal performance, yet there is a crisp lightness to much of the instrumentation. The arrangements prudently have strings, horns, and the occasional drum machine to create a full soundscape, capable of being both quiet and loud. The music bridges many historical eras with “The Boar’s Head” and “Merriment” having a medieval dance feel, using ¾ time, accordion, banjo, and what sounds like a harpsichord. Garrels’ rendition of “O Holy Night” hints at a crooning vocal style made famous by Elvis Presley. Yet Garrels’ own hollow and haunting vocals, which his fans know well from previous albums, is present in “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and all the original songs.
This album is great for a listener looking for a deep, reflective approach to the time of Christmas in the midst of the busyness and commercialism demanded by the culture around us. It is apparent that Josh Garrels is not looking to cash in on commercial success with this album, as many of his original songs and interludes are short musical ideas meant to help the listener along the journey of the album, not intended for radio play or mass appeal. This counter-cultural approach to Christmas is what makes his album stand out above all the other Christmas albums that have been released this year. (Small Voice)