Prime Cuts: I Give You Me, This Christmas With You, Snow Christmas Day
Often you would expect artists to have bundled themselves up in mink hats, knitted gloves, and thick winter jackets looking merrily happy on the front of their Christmas album covers. Not so with Garry Kean's debut festive release for Red Dot/Dream Records debut. Rather, what you find is a stoic Keane posting a cool Sting look, dressed not in fur but in a flowery Hawaiian-styled shirt. If it were not for the album's titular, one would have expected this to be an album's worth of Jimmy Buffett-esque island music. As unconventional as the album cover is, so is "This Christmas With You." This isn't your typical Christmas record of sugar-coated sentimentality enhanced by lush orchestrated strings. Rather, every track on this record is different. What you will encourage here is Christmas music, both originals as well as covers, in a variegated styles from jazz to pop to reggae to rock to swing to country to contemporary worship.
Kean was born in Toronto, Canada and began ministry at the young age of 12. He married his wife Brenda at 20 and the two set off into full-time ministry touring across Canada and the United States. After moving to Nashville Garry continued to record, tour and write songs for himself and other artists. Garry's writing styles range from worship, to pop-rock, to country and children's music. Garry eventually went on staff at a local church where he led worship, worked with youth and kids, and led many international missions teams. Today Garry and his family live in Nairobi, Kenya where they have planted Jacaranda Christian Fellowship and are the founders of an international charity, which primarily serves women and children in the slums of Nairobi. Garry returns to North America several times a year to write, record and tour.
Kean has brought his international influence to bare on "This Christmas with You." The record starts off in Frank Sinatra territory as Kean smoothly glides into a jazzy escapade with his self-composed (with Scott Faircloff) title cut "This Christmas with You." Gorgeously executed over a starry-eyed romantic tune, this track really brings out the warmth of the Christmas season. Then he uproots himself from the land of romance to John Lennon and Yoko Ono politically charged "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." Then he transitions to some Elvis' inspired rock n' roll fun with an ultra-cool rendition of "Blue Christmas." Then he gives a Coldplay cum Rend Collective take of "I Saw Three Ships" which is fetching.
Never one to overstay in any style, he shows off his rustic roots by offering a country waltz rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Though a little on the redundant side, Kean offers a solemn piano version of "Silent Night." His unimaginative take of "Silent Night" is soporific and somehow defies the creativity he has invested in the other songs. Much better is Steven Rosen and Keane's composition "I Give You Me." In a season plagued with so much commercialization where we are coerced to give and receive presents, sometimes the person we neglect most is our ultimate Giver, Jesus Christ. "I Give You Me" is a gorgeous worship ballad that reminds us that the best gift we can give to Jesus is us - all of us.
The album ends with two more originals with the better of the duo being "Snow Christmas Day." Featuring some delightful bells, the Jason Mraz-esque jazzy-pop of "Snow Christmas Day" offers an underpinning message of hope. In short, if you are looking for a Christmas record covering an unique array of sounds overlooking genre categorization, give Kean's new CD a spin, you won't regret it.