Seabird's re-imagining of Christmas classics a winner| Posted November 29, 2010
Like many other people, about this time of year I scour iTunes to find the latest and greatest renditions of Christmas songs. Typically, what I'm looking for are ingenious arrangements of the classics. (I'm a big fan of "What Child is This" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing.")
A couple weeks ago, I searched for "Hark," and near the top of the search list was a track by Christian rock group Seabird. I wasn't sure what I expected when I clicked to listen to the song, but it certainly wasn't what came out of my computer speakers.
Over the Hills and Everywhere, Seabird's seven-song EP, takes everything you thought you knew about Christmas carols and turns it on its head. Sure, all seven of the songs are familiar, and their lyrics are completely intact, but the melodies, chords, rhythms and tempos are completely reimagined.
The traditional ?Hark the Herald Angels Sing? is a very triumphant, anthemic declaration of Jesus' birth. In the Seabird universe, the song is a more mellow, contemplative tune for the first half, a banjo-infused knee-slapper the second half.
?Silent Night? renditions typically are dramatically quiet, still tear-jerkers, but Seabird launches the song with a driving drum beat, resonating electric guitars and alt-pop vocal harmonies. It musically doesn't reflect the ?Silent Night,? but rather energetically and pleasingly takes the role of storyteller.
If you get tired of singing the long ?gloria? in ?Angels We Have Heard on High,? fear not! The phrasing of Seabird's version is completely different. The uptempo, acoustic guitar- and piano-infused rendition would feel at home among
Think ?Go Tell it on the Mountain? is a Sunday School song? Think again. This is the most stylistically offset song on the album, taking on a back porch gospel/bluegrass flavor. You can picture lots of people clapping their hands, hitting tambourines and dancing. It's a feel-good song to be sure.
?What Child is This? is one of my all-time favorites. Sharing its traditional tune with ?Greensleeves,? the melody invokes the mystery reflected in its lyrics. Seabird ups the tempo, brightens the feel of the lyrics, changing the perspective of the song from mystery to celebratory worship. The lyrics are the same, but it's a different song altogether.
There's quite a bit of mystery to ?O Come O Come Emmanuel,? too. This time, Seabird darkens the song, arranging a lullaby-like, comforting song with simple piano and violin. It builds to an emotionally charged ?Hallelujah,? a worship-through-clenched-teeth kind of declaration that the Messiah ?shall come to thee o Israel.?
The message of ?Joy to the World? is that everything is OK now. Another lullaby-like tune, the brass and orchestral-led traditional arrangements fade as the familiar lyrics pop like never before. It seems that the familiarity of Christmas songs can sometimes diminish the beauty and power of the original lyrics; Seabird's ?Joy to the World? revives this poetry.
The first thing you realize after a listen of ?Over the Hills and Everywhere? is that it doesn't sound very Christmassy. There are no jingle bells in the mix, no familiar refrains and no orchestras.
In many ways, Seabird's EP sounds like an album you could listen to any time of the year. And that's actually one of the most appealing things about it. Christmas wasn't ever meant to be a once-a-year thing; God coming in the flesh as Jesus Christ was meant to be observed day-in and day-out.
The first Christmas more than 2,000 years ago wasn't polished, pretty and predictable, and neither are the sounds on Seabird's EP. It's real. It's gritty. It's impulsive at times, and emotional at other times. It's approachable. It's timeless and seasonless, and yet very true to the observance of Jesus' birth. While the sounds on Seabird's EP are from another Christmas dimension, they're strangely familiar. They're quite singable, easy melodies that cause us to stop and rethink the beautiful words we've sang for years.
Many bands put out a Christmas album for fun, for profit or to meet industry expectations. You can tell when a band is just fitting a holiday recording into its busy schedule. Conversely, you can tell when a band pours itself into a Christmas album. Seabird has done the hard work of re-imagining classic Christmas songs, and has created something that will be beloved by many for many Christmases, and all year long.