Add this to the seasonal recordings that have brought out the best in an artist.
Artist: Aaron Shust (www.aaronshust.com)
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 10 tracks/41:05 minutes
Followers of Christ should be able to appreciate that Christmas recordings can be more than just a throw-away offering from an artist. In commemorating this season, people like Jeff Johnson, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and many others have done some of their best work. You can add Unto Us by Aaron Shust as one of the fine efforts in this category.
The wide spectrum of sounds and the careful crafting make it obvious that a lot of time and skill went into making this something grand. Regardless of the style on each track, this is marked by regal form and dignity.
“Gloria” is a fine example. It sounds like a procession, beginning with a boy’s choir singing in Latin. Shust joins in, eventually adding, “Let there be peace on earth.” An adult choir and orchestration become part of the mix as the song marches toward a crescendo. It then fades peacefully into the distance.
This seamlessly alternates, sometimes in the same track, between the ancient and modern. “God Has Come to Earth,” works in the chorus, “O Come Let Us Adore Him.” The opening strumming, the winsome melody, the majestic lyrics make it an outstanding new Christmas song.
This is followed by the serene “Sanctuary.” Piano, orchestration and choir combine to create something truly gorgeous. A boy soloist makes the opening lines sound sublime, “Peace is here/Fear is gone/Love has come/Hope has dawned.” Shust then repeats this promise, before the choir joins the chorus, “He will be our sanctuary/Let our hearts not be afraid/Dwelling here with us forever/Jesus Christ is born today.”
The opening “Star of Wonder (Overture)” is two-thirds instrumental, and the brief “Keep Silent” is completely so. Both serve well to set the mood for what follows.
In the latter case, “Bethlehem,” is an adaptation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It comes with a new melody that like the original is gentle and beautiful.
“Rejoice” is an adaptation of “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” An added chorus makes it follow a more modern song structure. A full complement of voices and instruments make this powerful.
Finally, “Go Tell It,” is a soulful, rollicking version of “Go Tell on the Mountain.” What sounds like a Hammond B3 organ is all over this track. It’s a celebratory way to end a recording that captures all the various moods of the season.
Could this be the best album of Shust’s career? I don’t have the background to answer that definitively, but this has enough truth, beauty and wonder to make it a contender for that honor.
This shows that Christmas recordings can be far more than something disposable and good for just one season of the year. Why don’t we listen to Christmas recordings more often? It includes some of the greatest music ever composed, performed and recorded. The inspiration for much of it, as here, is Christ’s birth. Without His coming, dying and being raised, there would be no hope. This is worth remembering all year long.