Prime Cuts: Good Will, Ordinary Baby, His Name Shall be Called
Overall Grade: 4/5
The Erwins have taken the road less travelled. Rather than stock their new StowTown Christmas album with festive hymns and secular songs about Santa and snowflakes, the Erwins have kept such traditions to a minimum. They have invested the bulk of their yuletide debut with lesser known CCM Christmas tunes (GLAD, 4Him, Amy Grant, Brian Courtney Wilson, Chris Tomlin & Gloria Gaither), one traditional carol, and three originals. Since many of their CCM covers have not been re-recorded prodigiously, this album sounds like a brand offering for the quartet. In this regard, this album marks its distinction from the copious discs of recycled "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night." Since the Erwins have not yet released any new material since 2018's "Taste and See," fans must be thankful that they have this "newly" sounding album in their hands.
"Good Will," the first of the 3 originals, kicks off the proceedings to a good start. The song captures the magic and delight of the soft flurry of fresh falling snow with the sweeping sounds of orchestrated strings and the song's surging melody. "His Name Shall be Called" focuses rightly on Jesus accentuated by the song's majestic crescendo. Kudos to producers Wayne Haun and Trey Ivey for their glorious touches. The title track "What Christmas Really Means" is introduced by an extended instrumental string-laded"Silent Night" that is quite gorgeous to the ears. The song itself is inviting with a chorus that rings in your head all day.
Chris Tomlin's "Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)" ushers in familiar sounds of Christmas worship with the augmented contemporary twitching. Though Amy Grant, Kelly Clarkson, Pentatonix and countless others have covered "Grown-Up Christmas List," the song still brims with a must-hear message sobering us from those self-centred understanding of the Christmas.
But the album tapers off with GLAD'S "In the First Light." In a ballad-heavy record, this ultra-slow entry really drags things down a few more levels and the lyrics are so tedious. This is redemption set on snail's pace. It's wonderful to see the Erwins going out of their way to cover Brian Courtney Wilson's "Give Me a Star." Granted the song has a Christmas-y message but the tune doesn't sound like one. Perhaps the song needs to be re-imagined to spice up its seasonal potential.
However, the record is redeemed by "Ordinary Baby." Featuring the lyrics of Gloria Gather, the song succinctly captures how this tiny baby of Bethlehem draws us to God with lots of visceral affectations. The way the Erwins end the song with that extended vocal hold is simply priceless. One has to congratulate the siblings for not resorting to a phone-in affair of recycling through 10 Christmas hymns. Rather, they have taken the time to succour for songs that are (mostly) fresh sounding and have a way of framing the Christmas message with new affections.