Finally, Sara Groves covers a Stryper tune. Well, sort-of. Here’s Sara Groves’ second Christmas album – no frills, no jingle bells, but plenty of what Christmas is all about….
Joy of Every Longing Heart
Fair Trade Music
9 tracks / 32:12 minutes
I’ve gone on many times about how Sara Groves is a national treasure – an artist with an amazing consistency who produces musical projects filled with honesty, integrity, and her own unique stamp as an artist. In an age of demographics, test-groups, and mass-produced ‘praise and worship product’ that’s something rare and to be treasured. And so, with mixed expectations (because I know what she’s capable of, but I get suspicious about Christmas albums) I do my initial listening to Sara Groves’ second Christmas album, Joy of Every Longing Heart (the first was O, Holy Night) …and my fears are laid to rest. The title alone should have told me.
Don’t expect jingle bells, snowballs, and sleigh rides – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sara, though (because she’s Sara Groves), has taken the path of an introspective Christmas. The album, warmly produced by John Mark Nelson, is an aural fireplace of flickering light and contemplation of the incarnation. There are some low-level electronics and even some percussion, but the real stars of Joy of Every Longing Heart are piano, bass, woodwinds, violin and cello. There’s a beautiful intimacy to this just-over a half-hour of music. It’s as if every musician played just enough to create the mood to let The Story take center stage – and of course the ever-unassuming but always just-right vocals of Sara Groves – with simple elegance – sings the story the way we feel it inside.
Most of the song titles are familiar, although “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Winter Wonderland” have been given new melodies.
So there’s nothing fancy here – nothing tricky, cute, or cutting-edge. Most of the program is made up of traditional Christmas songs – as a matter of fact, we have to wait ‘til the fifth track to hear the first of Sara’s two originals (“We Wait”). Oh, and for those of you who have been waiting for Sara to cover a song that was also covered by Stryper (come on, I know there must be three or four of you), “Winter Wonderland” is treated to a new melody and a more melancholy setting. “Just Like They Said” is the other Sara Groves original and it’s some golden Groves – a sweet song about discovering the Christ-child, in a setting mostly of piano and strings accompanying the vocal.
A sense of awe, mystery and wonder prevails on these songs. Is it wrong to review a project and use the word ‘nice?’ Well, this is a nice little Christmas album – and I mean that in the best possible way. This one is for the family. Maybe just for the season …but maybe not. Maybe it should be played every now and then throughout the year – maybe when you need to remember what this season really means. Merry Christmas, Sara, Troy and family. Thanks for letting us into your living room.
- Bert Saraco