Filled with variety and cheer, Joy is one of the best releases of the season.
Artist: Steven Curtis Chapman (www.stevencurtischapman.com)
Label: Provident Label Group
Length: 13 tracks/45:05 minutes
If you liken Steven Curtis Chapman’s career to the water that Jesus turned to wine at a wedding feast, you could say that Chapman has saved the best for last. Joy continues the winsome, acoustic-based, organic sound found on his last few releases. It may not be roots rock, but it is less CCM radio and more rustic. Chapman has never sounded better or been more creative.
Joy’s nostalgic cover, with old-school microphone, vintage guitar, Chapman in black and white with a starry tinsel-colored background and red banner, all right out of the ’50s, signal some of what you find here. Originals like “Christmas Time Again” and “Christmas Kiss” and the classic “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” hearken to a more romantic era where the electric guitar was a new novelty. Chapman joins a long line of holiday crooners, and it’s like the late Les Paul added his trademark sound.
In a world that esteems the extremes of those who cater to the masses and the more cryptic, songwriters like Chapman are easily overlooked and underrated. In the industry he serves, he has been rightly recognized many times for his abilities. Here, a little less than half of the songs are originals, and without exception, they highlight Chapman’s skill in making a pop song shine with radiant spiritual truth. Witness “Christmas Card,” which is like a beacon of hope for all who struggle with the holidays.
In “I Am Joseph (God is With Us)” he issues an invitation to all: “So let’s all gather at the manger/And bring all our hopes and hurts and fears/All our unworthiness and shame/Knowing every one of us is the reason that He came.”
This starts with fast strumming and snappy percussion on a mandolin-accented “Joy to the World.” Though it incorporates a few key phrases from this song in the next two tracks; it’s not at all repetitive. It’s more like, in case you missed the message because of the familiar context, here it is again set against a different background. I found myself hearing anew the familiar words about the birth of Christ as I listened to words from the classic carols.
The classics sound fresh and sometimes feature the African Children’s Choir. “Christmas Time is Here” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” are stripped-down, giving them the stark beauty of darkened branches presiding over a snow-covered landscape. These moments of melancholy are the perfect counterpoint to the livelier fare.
Chapman has revitalized himself on this and recent offerings. It makes me look forward to what he does in the future as he continues to experiment. Joy is evidence of how Chapman’s newfound creativity invigorates his work. Filled with variety and plenty of cheer, it is one of the best releases of the season.