Among the dross of thousands of Christmas releases, this one stands out as a thoughtful, understated little gem.
Label: yvonnelyon.bandcamp.com/album/songs-for-christmas (also available on CD)
Time: 12 tracks / 42 minutes
There must be many hundreds of Christmas collections available, but how many are worth buying?
For me, any worthwhile Christmas album has to achieve several threshold standards: there must be proper carols; there must be minimal (preferably no) retro nostalgia about roaring fires or kissing Santa; and the artists must play in their own normal style, rather than adopting some cheap, false sleighbell-laden sound.
On top of that, I’m looking for some depth of thought and creative writing.
Yvonne Lyon certainly meets all these baseline requirements and sprinkled some of her own pertinent songs into the mix.
The seven carols featured include several with the best tunes: a vigorous “See Amid the Winter’s Snow;” a fiddle-fuelled Celtic “Joy to the World,” which has its own tweaks; a fragile “In the Bleak Midwinter;” and spectral accounts of “O Holy Night” and the ever-lovely “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
“Away in a Manger” is normally a turn-off for me, its lyrics harking back to Victorian days and aimed squarely at children, but creatively, the Celtic touches not only reappear for this carol, but turn mid-song into the melody of “Morning has Broken,” a blend that works beautifully. Her added chorus updates it well, too.
Her own songs include “I Believe in Christmas,” which seems to owe more than a little to the series of “God” and “God Part 2” songs by Lennon, Larry Norman and U2. Opener “Peace on Earth” is a real grower. It sets the tone beautifully and you don’t even have to be Christian to feel the sentiment.
She also tackles the familiar theme of being home alone at Christmas, along with earthed anticipation of the festival and treasuring the season’s wonder.
The overall sound tends towards sparse, with her voice largely backed by guitar, piano and a small amount of percussion. A little more lushness would have been nice, but this does put the focus onto the lyrics – and she (together with husband David) does put a lot of thought into the words.
This collection places God’s love squarely in the centre of the celebration. As the strapline in the centre of the CD’s fold-out pack proclaims, “Somehow, in between the tinsel and twine, there’s a story, a story that is yours and is mine.”
This one is likely to be a favourite in our household for Christmasses to come.
(My 4-part account of 50 years of CCM begins here)