Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Stories - Jenny & Tyler

Recapturing childlike wonder

Christmas Stories
Artist: Jenny & Tyler (
Length: 9 songs/35 minutes
Label: Residence Music

On Christmas Stories Jenny & Tyler succeed in making eight classics and one new song their own. The opening “Christmastime” is an original written by Jenny, Tyler and Trent Monk. Among the many seasonal references the song expresses the hope of finding childlike wonder. With the help of producer Ben Shive this is what the album accomplishes.

As with several of the songs there is a classic feel with a light jazz backing. This, however, is not the whole story.

The fourth track, “The Maker of the Sun and Moon,” an old British hymn, has a markedly different sound. It’s more like a soft rock anthem. It has a driving rhythm that is propelled by light percussion and strumming with some beautiful acoustic accents.

It also marks the turn to praise and worship:

     O Perfect Love
     Outpassing Sight
     O Brilliant One
     O Radiant Light

The chorus above may represent Jenny & Tyler’s contribution as they share the credit for the songwriting.

Again, there is somewhat of a change-up on the next song, “O Holy Night.” Jenny sings the first part like a tender lullaby with just sparse instrumentation before Tyler joins in with a fuller sound. The background is somewhat ethereal, which is a welcome change from over-produced versions. Too much production is not a problem on this release.

It would be easy to overlook the two instrumentals because they are short in length. That would be a mistake. Together they provide a tender, magical interlude and an elegant benediction.

“Handel’s Messiah” is the longest track, being a medley of highlights from the famous piece. The arrangements are different enough to enable the listener to experience this anew. Overly familiar pieces don’t require as much attention. This had me listening more carefully, and I was impressed by how the different parts present the complete story of Christ, from before His advent to His exaltation.

“White Christmas” is a delight with initially just acoustic guitar backing. As with “I’ll Be Home” the pace is relaxed. The words and sounds are crystalline.

This is the first time Ben Shive has worked with Jenny & Tyler but not his first Christmas effort. Together they have done a marvelous job of helping listeners feel a bit of wonder through a variety of styles.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Wonder - Jean Watson

Can a finer tribute to “Hallelujah” be found?

Artist: Jean Watson (
Label: Suite 28 Records
Length: 11 tracks/44 minutes

With the recent passing of Leonard Cohen, the instrumental of “Hallelujah,” a bonus track on Wonder by Jean Watson, serves as an elegant tribute. The violin playing is exquisite.

Unfortunately, the song is only available on iTunes. Then again, better there than not at all. It’s one of the finer moments.

Back to the violin. It is not only proficient but soothing throughout, whether the style is traditional Celtic or contemporary expressions of devotion and worship. By the latter, I don’t mean the type sung in modern worship circles. This is never that.

This is closer to classical and folk in the singer/songwriter style.

Though the violin is often heard, it’s not overdone. Keyboards are also prominent. There are snatches of stylish guitar playing, and light, mostly programmed percussion. Watson’s voice adds a delicate beauty. Neither she nor the instrumentation is overpowering.

The mood ranges from peaceful to worshipful and joyful. Serene also comes to mind.

“It is Well” is an original that segues into the chorus of the popular hymn that has the same familiar words in the title.

“Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” is indicative of the Celtic influence heard more or less throughout. This is the version that includes the chorus written by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio, and made popular by the former.

A beautiful guitar-driven version of the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be Your Name” is also included. Aside from the standards, most of the tracks are original.

I like the space between the notes. They have room to breathe. It’s not cluttered. It makes for a restful, God-centered experience.

I also appreciate the sentiments expressed in the title song: “May we never lose our wonder / Wide-eyed and mystified / May we be just like a child / staring at the beauty of our King.” Amen, “fill us with wonder.”

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