Prime Cuts: Mary's Arms, All is Well, The Space Between (with Josh Garrels)
Overall Grade: 4.5/5
There are songwriters and there are storytellers who tap the platitudes of life with poignant specificity. Over the years, Sandra McCracken has been lauded by reputable publications such as Christianity Today and the Gospel Coalition as one who has penned such sonic narratives accompanied by lots of holiness inducing dividends. As a result, she has joined the elite class of modern songwriters, such as Andrew Peterson, Keith Getty, Matt Boswell and Matt Papa, who can coterminously capture the emotional outpouring of worship and the theological fecundity of Biblical truths in their compositions. Now, McCracken has partnered with Integrity Music to release her first full-length Christmas album, comprising of eleven songs, six of which are originals.
Nevertheless, McCracken differs from such a cadre of aforementioned peers in the sense that her songs have a more country/Americana orientation. Even McCracken's vocals, which is cross between Natalie Maines and Emmylou Harris, has a distinctively down home Appalachian drench to it. Despite this being a festive album, "Christmas," on many spots, sounds more like a late 70s country offering than a typical Christmas awash with lots of maudlin strings and cheesy-sounding bells. Most country-sounding is "Mary's Arms." Cradled in the rustic warmth of a manger, "Mary's Arms" is a marvel of the glorious mystery of the divine and human nature of the Christ child. Sounding like it was lifted out of the "Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack is the rootsy "Bright Morning Stars."
"All is Well" is a tune of note. With great attention paid to the developing the intricate details of the narrative, "All is well" is a perfect specimen of how to re-tell the story of Christ birth with refreshing emotional depths and stunning poetic details. Not to be missed is soul-piercing ballad "The Space Between." Utilising the wait between Christmas and New Year's as a metaphor of our waiting for God's intervention, the song is one of the best treatises of what it means to bear holy patience. Do your soul a favour and ponder the words of this song deeply and you will really treasure the joy such holy waiting engenders. Cindy Morgan and Gabe Dixon (who have been co-writers with McCracken on numerous tunes on this record) join in with McCracken vocally on the singalong-able "Jesus What a Wonderful Child."
The rest of the album finds McCracken visiting the carols. One has to applaud McCracken for eschewing the traditional tunes about snowballs, mistletoes, and silver bells in favor of truly Christ -exalting hymns. When she sings "Joy to the World," "Silent Night" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain," you know she's not singing on auto-pilot. Rather, she treats each track as opportunities of worship bringing out fresh affections for the Saviour. If you want a Christmas album that makes you think, worship and fall in love again with Jesus, check this album out.