The Phantom Tollbooth

A Medieval Christmas
Artist: Kemper Crabb
Label: Indie, 1996
Length: 10 songs/41:16

In contrast to our confused postmodern, naturalistic world-view, the world-view of Medieval times was decidedly theo-centric. Kings and knights may not always have been the best of sorts, but they knew the value of charity, chivalry and most importantly practical Christology. It is no wonder that the music of that time period was richly endowed with these themes. The traveling troubadours of the time knew the value of a rich oral tradition, a cleverly constructed phrase, and the mystery of worship. Although their art is nearly forgotten now, thanks to a handful of scholars, musicians and artists, medieval music can still be found today.  Thanks to Kemper Crabb, an associate pastor at a church in the Houston area and mainstay behind pioneer Jesus music band Arkangel, we are able to enjoy the same fare the lords and ladies and serfs and squires featured in their festive celebrations.

A Medieval Christmas is a live disc, and for an indie production, it is wonderfully executed in sound and spirit. Requisite guitars join a mandolin, recorders, cello and wonderful voices on this charming medieval musical mix of melodies and harmonies. The song selections range from the obscure "Down in Yon Forest," "Es Kommel Ein Schiff" and the "Wessex Carol" to more recognizable hymns such as "What Child Is This," "Good King Wenceslaus" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." The version of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" is an eleven minute long romp through history and exaltation. "Doulos," an original tune first featured on Crabb's worship-centered revel The Vigil, expresses
profound gratitude for being God's slave.

Kemper Crabb has concerned himself with the serious exploration of the relationship between art and worship. He is an artist and musician who takes God seriously. If Kemper Crabb and company had merely created an accessible Christmas album true to medieval roots, that would be enough. Infinitely more, they have taken that goal one step further and infused this work with great reverence for the infant that turned the whole world around. Or as he intones in the full regalia of "Down in Yon Forest:"  "I love my Lord Jesus above everything!"

 By Steven Stuart Baldwin  (12/9/98)