Husband and wife Darin and Brooke Aldridge breathe imagination and breath-taking soul into this gem of a Christmas album.
The song list includes an array of vividly reimagined blasts from the past from the likes of Dolly Parton (“With Bells On”), The Statler Brothers (“Who Do You Think”), The Seldom Scene (“Christmas Time Back Home”), Joni Mitchell (“River), The Beachboys (“Little Saint Nick”) and the Carpenters (“Merry Christmas Darling”).
Selections like “With Bells On,” the bluegrassy John Duffey and Ann Kuykendall-penned “Christmas Time Back Home” and a playful bossa-nova-like instrumental called “The Chipmunk Song” are full-throttle celebrations steeped in joyousness and nostalgia
But on other, more purely spiritual numbers, the Aldridges, both charismatic singers, contemplate some deeper dimensions of the events that are at the essence of the season.
In “Who Do You Think” (penned by Don and Harold Reid) Mary and her family must endure a barrage of local tongue-wagging over an unmarried small-town woman with a child on the way and a seemingly tall tale about its patrimony. The song even poses the rhetorical question: “Who could believe such a thing?”
On “It Wasn’t His Child” (Skip Ewing). Darin on lead vocal recounts Joseph’s patience and humility as he takes the Christ Child in as his own. On “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” (cowritten by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant) Brooke’s hushed lead vocal stunningly captures Mary’s abject fear and vulnerability as she prays to heaven for the strength to bear the literal weight of the world that has been bestowed on her in the form of the virgin birth.
Brooke’s rendering of “Noel” (Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Matt Redman) captures the profound mixed emotions of sadness and optimism over the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of a peace that “shall reign forever more.” The point is emphasized by poignant minor-key variations of passages from “Jingle Bells” by David Rhyne that bookend the song.
Other songs, such as Joni Mitchell’s lovely but despairing “River” (beautifully revived by Brooke, a multi IBMA “Vocalist of the Year” Award winner) and “Merry Christmas Darling” (Richard Carpenter and Frank Pooler) capture the anguish over absent or lost loved ones that sometimes dampen holiday celebrations.
All in all, this exquisite collection gets to the heart of the many different emotional dimensions, both secular and spiritual, upbeat and downbeat, that the holidays represent for each of us in a slightly different way.