Monday, November 3, 2008

Josh Rosenthal - Narratives


About a week ago I received Josh Rosenthal's new Christmas album called "Narratives: A Christmas Album". I am a sucker for Christmas music, which is why I have a play list on my ipod that is just Christmas music.

My usual complaint about Josh Rosenthal's albums is that they end and I wish that there was more music on the CD (I know that this is a good problem...it would be worse if I couldn't wait to stop listening to the music). The plus side is that I can give a song by song review of the album.

1. Come O Come Emmanuel - The key to recording a well known Christmas song is giving it something that makes it sand out. My favorite version of this song to date is the Sufjan Steven's version found on his Christmas EPs. Rosenthal, also makes his mark on this song with an uncharacteristic fast beat, that seems off place at first, but soon makes for an added element in a beautiful song that makes it stand out among other versions of this classic hymn. Towards the end of the song Rosenthal and producer Josh Wilson sing the last verse in Latin which is yet another creative example of adding his own spin on the song. The instrumentation is more complex, and wonderfully orchestrated. If you are going to download a new version of "Come O Come Emmanuel" this year then it needs to be this one.

2. This Changes Everything - There is a distinct difference between "Christmas songs" and "songs about Christmas". Although his album contains both, this song is a Christmas song to the core. This Rosenthal original is a songs that is reminiscent of a classic Christmas hymn, complete with quiet drum rolls, focusing on the cultural shift that takes place over the birth of the Christ-child. An example of this focus is when Rosenthal sings, "Priest put down your sacrifice, king give up your crown tonight, Prophet come and see the child born to die, to bring you back to life, Raise your voice with angels sing, bow before this manger King, with hope to give and peace to bring, this changes everything" This song has quickly become my favorite track on the album, and possibly my favorite modern Christmas song, largely because it has the feel of a timeless classic. It is not only a beautifully crafted and performed song, but it also is a constant reminder of the focus of Christmas and reminds us all that his birth "changes everything, so rejoice".

3. Christmas for Cowboys - This is a classic example of a song about Christmas. Rosenthal brings a new life to this song about spending Christmas out on the range driving cattle. The song contains the usual intricate guitar that people have come to expect with any Josh Rosenthal release but this track also features the lovely and haunting harmonica of Rapheal which was also present on Rosenthal's last release "Renaissance". It is a short and simple song that has a personality of it's own and is a fantastic lead in to Rosenthal's second original on the album.

4. Before I Go - For those of you who have heard the story to Rosenthal's catchy song about leaving Lubbock titled "Gotta Get Out" will have a fond appreciation for this song. This is a song about wanting reconciliation and healing in a situation that is waiting for you "back home". Offering the truth that running from our problems does not mean they are gone, but often escalate without facing them. This song is loosely tied to Christmas in that it discusses going home for the holidays and having to face the pain that is still there waiting to be reconciled. It is a brutally honest song which reminds Rosenthal fans why they have connected with his music in the first place. I personally feel that this is one of the best songs that Rosenthal has penned, relying less on masterful guitar work, and more on melody, and honest, thought provoking lyrics.

5. Christmas Morning - It is a great task to take on a song written and performed originally by a great song writer. Rosenthal seems up to the task with Lyle Lovett's "Christmas Morning". Much like "Christmas for Cowboys" it is a simple song that is one of the shorter ones on the EP. Although, I do like this song, I also believe that it is probably my least favorite on the album. This not due to this song being bad, or ever sub-par, but due to the fact that it is preceded with four outstanding tracks that are, for the most part, flawless. Even though as a song it does not stand out among gems like "Before I Go" or "This Changes Everything" this does showcase Rosenthal's voice in a way that few songs do. As Rosenthal sings on this track it makes me think of Ryan Adams on Jacksonville City Nights. A low-key voice that bring in the emotion instead of relying on instrumentation.

All in all I believe that this is one of my favorite Christmas albums to date. It would be a great addition to any one's holiday season. Josh Wilson's production is outstanding and Rosenthal is in rare song writing form.

Tracks to download:
All of them (though you are out of your mind to not download "This Changes Everything" or "Come O Come Emmanuel"

This album releases on Tuesday, November 4th.

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