It’s amazing how often musicians get Christmas albums wrong. You’d think it would be easy to make a quality holiday album, simply because there’s so much good material to choose from – both sacred and secular. However, every year a lot of garbage is released come winter time, unbelievably. Smalltown Poets wonderful new Christmas Time Again ought not to be so exceptional, yet this high quality release will stand out among the glut of yuck packaged in ribbons and bows.
The veteran group’s version of “Joy to the World,” for instance, is infused with true joy. This is not, paint-by-numbers, sing it like you’re caroling with a bunch of amateurs performing. No, this is a band that knows the song is all about expressing the joy of Jesus’ coming. The band rocks it up a bit, but not so much that it’s transformed into kid’s loud music. Instead, it’s driven to a propulsive beat because such a beat fits it perfectly. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, the Bible tells us, and this is exactly what they do here. Now, is that really so hard? Well, if you've had to sit through multiple joy-less “Joy To The World” versions, you know well that it’s seemingly not as easy as it sounds.
With “Angels From the Realms of Glory” is infused with a bit of jangling guitar work. The guitar part just makes it nearly perfect. Add to this a sincere vocal, a smart and spiritual lyric, and it comes off as a real winner. You might be a little nervous about the group’s take on “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” After all, this is a gospel number, and white people generally don’t do so well with such material. However, the group does a fantastic a cappella version of the song. This is a rock band that can actually sing well together and harmonize. One suspects it’ll make their grandparents really proud.
For “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” the group goes for more of a piano song, rather than a guitar-backed track. They perform it in a sincere and reverent manner, which is perfectly appropriate. There are some Christmas songs you can play around with, sonically, and others that you better not mess with. This one belongs in the latter category, and Smalltown Poets nail it.
Yes, there’s a whole lot of new Christmas music every year. Therefore, you don’t want to take a lot of chances with your Christmas music money. Christmas Time Again is what you might call a sure thing, so go out and get it.