“Let us find our rest in Thee”
God With Us
Artist: Laura Story (www.laurastorymusic.com)
Label: Fair Trade Services
Length: 10 songs/41 minutes
I could not help being interested in God With Us by Laura Story. I like Christmas music, and secondly, anyone who can write songs like “Indescribable” and “Mighty to Save” gets my attention. Plus, I know that her faith has been tested in the furnace of affliction. Her husband, Martin, was diagnosed early in their marriage with a brain tumor and their lives have never been the same. It’s not that they are worse off. It’s more like broken but better and that carries over into her ministry, making it all the more appealing.
God With Us is Story’s first Christmas album. This includes “Emmanuel,” which was previously released in 2008. Story lists Amy Grant as a favorite for Christmas music, so it’s not surprising that this incorporates a variety of styles including an orchestra and choir on some tracks.
Like many Christmas releases there is a mix between classics and new songs. In this case, all are spiritually-oriented, which makes sense given that Story has become an established artist in the worship genre. Several tracks are along those lines, and the material here can stand alongside the best of it.
An interesting hybrid of old and new is “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” A chorus has been added to the classic text and the music is similar to what you hear in congregations that employ modern worship. This third track gives us the first taste of orchestration, which complements but never overwhelms. It’s almost like an introduction to a couple of later songs that are highly orchestrated. The latter may be a bit much for those who favor contemporary sounds and can live without the strings and such.
And yet one of them, “Behold the Lamb of God,” an Andrew Peterson song, though heavy with orchestration, is a beautiful duet with Brandon Heath. This is a definite highlight.
Another notable collaboration and highlight is “O Come All Ye Faithful,” where Steven Curtis Chapman harmonizes on the vocals. This has a roots rock-like feel with banjo and handclaps. It’s a joyful sound. It may be my favorite.
It took me a few listens to appreciate the a cappella version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I’m not sure that I like how the choir backs the lead vocal in the first part. Not employing instruments makes the opening on the next track, “Emmanuel,” all the more powerful.
Perhaps the most gorgeous moment comes after an instrumental overture, when Story opens “I Lift My Eyes” by softly singing, “I lift my eyes to the hills/Where does my help come from?” This is an orchestrated track but in this quiet moment she is just accompanied by piano. It’s a lovely lead up to the last song.
“Silent Night” is little more than Story and an acoustic guitar, but it’s one of the best songs.
If you collect Christmas albums, and even if you don’t, this is worth having. It succeeds in being modern but incorporating ancient elements. For those who favor spiritual substance, there is plenty here.