What do you get when you mix Bing Crosby, George Frideric Handel, an old hymn, and an original?
Well, besides coolest couple award, you also get Christmas Stories.
For some people, it still might be a little early for official listening, but Jenny & Tyler’s new Christmas album just released, and, guys, it’s so good. Produced by Ben Shive, the album boasts nine tracks, two of them instrumental. With a variety of both solemn and “snappy” radio songs, as Tyler put it, it’s nuanced enough to deserve a solid listen in a good set of headphones before streaming from the car.
This first track is hopelessly romantic. A catchy, playful melody with standard jazz instruments, you can easily envision Michael Buble doing a decent cover of it onstage. The music video, released the same week as the album, is a fun addition that’s sure to put people in the right mood and endear the songwriters to future fans.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
This classic is always mesmerizing when done right, and this version is no exception. It’s the type of song you’d find backing a nostalgic scene out a lonely bookshop window, You’ve Got Mail style. Jenny even debuts her clarinet skills with a short solo, giving a shout out to those band kid days. A lullaby of sorts, it’s a nice muted moment between two more upbeat tracks.
Is there a music artist who hasn’t recorded “Winter Wonderland” yet? Maybe. Yet there’s a certain delight about the song that keeps people coming back for more. Plus—like, I said before—music video.
Maker of the Sun and Moon
“Maker of the Sun and Moon” is a bright and rousing track that could easily be sung in church on Christmas morning. A less familiar hymn, it’s driven by acoustic guitar, strings, and a lively drumbeat. The lyrics are fresh and poetic, praising God through the imagery of light, in the spirit of what we might imagine that first Christmas star to look like:
O, Perfect Love
O, Brilliant One
O Radiant Light
As is common with hymns nowadays, it lends itself to a little reimagining, which Jenny and Tyler (and Ben!) tactfully accomplish.
Oh Holy Night
A traditional rendition of this wildly popular anthem, the couple’s voices are light and airy, almost reminiscent of All Sons & Daughters in the bridge. But something magical happens throughout this song to set it apart from other standard covers. It might be the unusual chord patterns during the guitar build. It might be the way their fragile vocals harmonize just right in the last repetition of “O holy night.” Whatever it is, it works. In true Jenny and Tyler fashion.
In the Bleak Midwinter
A short, two-and-a-half-minute piano interlude, this is a refreshing melody you don’t tend to hear on too many pop albums. Starting out with lone piano notes plunking out the melody, it builds in richness on the second verse, providing a nice segue into the next song.
Perhaps the most unexpected track is an original medley of Handel’s Messiah. This is what really sets the album apart. It’s a deeply worshipful track that gave me chills the first time I played it in the car. Starting off with a vibrant chorus of “For Unto Us a Child is Borne,” the track makes a turn for the slightly haunting but gorgeous side, while still being understated. The song continually transitions to the next theme almost before it’s begun the first, which leaves you a little unsatiated in the best possible way. One of the better moments is arguably when Tyler begins singing “Surely He hath Borne Our Griefs,” and Jenny adds her delicate harmony. What isn’t included is the familiar upbeat melody of the Hallelujah Chorus. Instead, the duo sings the lyrics set to a more mournful melody with a backdrop of piano and strings that build emotionally. Overall, the song has fleeting moments of joyousness, but it highlights the more serious, yet powerful, Messiah themes.
The last vocal song is the whimsical, 1950’s classic. In the duo’s Facebook Live session, where they played through most of the album the night before release day, Jenny mentions how Ben encouraged her to sing the song as a blessing to their two girls, Sarah and Jane. So, in a very merry doxological way, they do just that. It’s a sweet way to end the album. Plus, who doesn’t like Bing Crosby?
This final instrumental revisits a Handel motif, and it’s got Ben Shive’s fingerprints all over it. Like, literally. An anticipatory and kind of heartbreaking little piano melody, it layers with strings and chimes, providing a beautiful close to a very reverent album.
As was Jenny and Tyler’s intent, Christmas Stories should make a fine holiday soundtrack to your gatherings with friends and family. I can’t recommend it enough.
Jenny & Tyler are also the special guests at Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas show this year. You can catch them on tour from 11/30 – 12/15. Buy tickets here.
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