I may be struck by lightning for saying this, but Christmas carols are my favourite part of the holiday.
Maybe it’s because I became a Christmas-carol junkie at such a young age – learning all 6,432 verses of “Good King Wenceslas” by the time I was five. And after singing these songs in countless choirs, concerts, masses, and every Christmas Eve (whether my family likes it or not), these hymns now live and breathe deep within my memory … within me.
So the thought of two of my musical loves coming together for David Archuleta’s Christmas from the Heart CD filled me with trepidation. How could my expectations ever be met? How could I not be disappointed?
But as he always does, David takes my expectations, sees them, raises the stakes, then shows his cards and beats all odds. Every time. When will I ever learn? I was blown away by so much on this album (and noted only one misstep *cough*Charice*cough*), but here are a few of my favourite things:
O Holy Night
It is a tribute to this arrangement and the orchestration that my tears began to well even before David started to sing. The visceral thrill of hearing — no feeling — real strings, real woodwinds, real percussion — made my knees weak.
We’ve heard David sing OHN before but never like this. At first I thought he slowed things down from his Tree Lighting Ceremony version but, comparing the two, I realize he slowed only his delivery to add emphasis to each line, each word — all the while maintaining the same tempo … incredible. It has the effect of bringing a profound depth of meaning to each phrase. With its tender tone and phrasing, David’s voice carries the essence of this most holy night to my very marrow.
And you’d have to be seriously dehydrated not to tear up at the delicate reverence of “His gospel is peace,” “Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth” or the sublime high note of “Noëëëëël!”
What Child is This?
Oh my. Where do I begin? For me, the purity and youthful innocence of David’s voice paired with the honesty and truth he brings to every note here are both heartbreaking and breathtaking.
He makes the scene feel so real, I can practically smell the straw in the manger. It feels as though David is shepherding us into the stable with him where we stand gazing at the infant in awe and wonder. He sings simply and softly as a whisper — careful not to wake the blessed babe.
By the time he asks “Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and mule are feeding?” my heart grows heavy with his at the poignancy of the lowly surroundings. Then the full impact of what child this is finally hits at the crescendo, and I weep with joy at “This, This is Christ the King.”
O Come All Ye Faithful
Love this arrangement. A perfect marriage of contemporary David flourishes and traditional majesty. It should always be sung this way.
Riu Riu Chiu
This song is already haunting my dreams. It dates back to the Renaissance and has a peculiar (in a good way) cadence … the trance-like quality of a Gregorian chant fused with a soulful Latin rhythm. Absolutely addictive. (Pat-a-Pan also has constant-replay potential and I can’t wait for the inevitable dance/club mixes to surface.)
I’m too overwhelmed by David’s Ave Maria to say anything coherent. Let me just say this: If you’ve lost your faith and don’t want it back again, best skip this one.
This is a perfect jewel of a track. Again, it begins softly, tenderly, as if David is one of the shepherds watching the baby Jesus sleep. Then, his voice swells as if he’s stepped outside the stable and is free to sing out the miraculous news to the world — to the moon and the stars and the sky.
This isn’t the record of a singer concerned with fame or fortune or making his voice sound pretty – it’s the record of a master storyteller, an artist who wants to connect with every listener – regardless of their beliefs or lack thereof – so that every last one can feel the joy – the pure love – that lies at the heart of Christmas.
Thank you for this most precious gift, David.