Reviewed by Ewan Jones
Here's a refreshing approach to the done-to-death Christmas CD. Horner has combined eight of his own compositions with imaginative takes on three traditional carols in order to tell the Christmas story. Along the way, he draws our attention to some contemporary parallels without being preachy. Opening Irish jig "Born On Christmas Day" is raw and celebratory and is joined by other upbeat songs including "The Heartbeat Of Christmas", with its poetic spoken verses underpinned with gritty guitar riffs. These in turn are evenly matched by slower tracks, such as atmospheric "The Boy From Bethlehem" and "The Darkest Place Of All". Horner writes that he "read the old story again and found... the story is one of poverty, homelessness, infanticide, doubt, search, journey, hope, grace and salvation." Through his compositions he challenges us to dwell on these aspects of the Christmas story, and to let them play a part in how we live our lives at Christmas. If that all sounds a bit heavy, be assured that the album is wonderfully creative and played out with just the right balance of humour ("Happy Consumer-mass", "The Worst Day That I've Had (Joseph's Song)") and sobriety ("O Come", "WWJK?"). Many of the songs are imbibed with a rootsy authenticity that make you feel as if you're listening to a traditional tune that's been a part of folk tradition for a hundred years. An '80s hair-rock version of "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" is a bit of a misstep, but does not spoil the overall experience. The musicianship is excellent, Horner's gravelly voice is perfect for these heavenly themes and importantly, it "feels" like a Christmas album without being cliched. If you're looking for a new CD to provide the soundtrack to your festive season, you could do a lot worse than this.
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