My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Restless Heart – ‘A Restless Heart Christmas’

restlessheartChristmas albums can tricky to get right. There are certain standards that audiences expect to hear, but it can sometimes be difficult to get all but the most diehard fans to part with their hard-earned cash for the same old songs they already have on dozens of collections by other artists. On the other hand, if the artist gets too adventurous, the results can be very off-putting; SheDAISY’s obnoxious version of “Jingle Bells” comes to mind. For their first Christmas album, which is also their first new studio release in nine years, Restless Heart has chosen a little of each approach. A Restless Heart Christmas contains some old favorites — some with some innovative new arrangements — as well as some lesser-known contemporary numbers, and two brand new songs.

The set opens with one of the new numbers, “Season of Harmony”, which I would have used as a title track, because great harmonies were what made Restless Heart’s music special, and nearly thirty years after they made their chart debut, the harmonies are sounding as good as ever. Lead singer Larry Stewart is in fine vocal form. The song is very much in the same vein as the music the band made in their commercial heyday, yet it does not sound retro. It is followed by “Tennessee Christmas”, which was first introduced to audiences in 1983 by Amy Grant, who wrote it with her then-husband Gary Chapman. It’s been recorded a number of times since then, but Restless Heart’s version of this underrated chestnut is possibly the finest I’ve heard. Roger Miller’s “Old Toy Trains” and a faithful-to-the-original reading of “The Little Drummer Boy” are also among my favorites.

As far as more traditional carols go, the band does a very reverent version of my favorite Christmas hymn “O Holy Night”, while “Silent Night” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” are given updated arrangements. “Silent Night” is performed a cappela with a doo-wop arrangement, which on the surface may sound sacrilegious, but surprisingly, it works well. “Angels We Have Heard On High” also lets the band show off their harmonizing, and performing the old carol with modern instrumentation gives it a contemporary feel. “Jingle Bell Rock”, while not a carol, is also given a new arrangement, with some big-band flourishes, but this experiment doesn’t work as well. It’s my least favorite song on the album.

The closing track “Santa’s Prayer” is a very fine song that finds St. Nick lamenting the over-commercialization of Christmas, and praying that people will rediscover the true meaning of the season.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t a hardcore country Christmas album, but neither are there any over-the-top performances, with “Jingle Bell Rock” being the only production misstep — and a minor one at that. Longtime Restless Heart fans will not be disappointed, and the collection is just middle-of-the-road enough that non-country fans who may be visiting over the holidays should enjoy it as well.

Grade: A

One response to “Album Review: Restless Heart – ‘A Restless Heart Christmas’

  1. Paul W Dennis December 12, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Very nice album , not a “must have” but certainly a worthy addition to one’s Christmas collection
    p.s. I very mch liked their version of “Jingle Bell Rock”

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