Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Groves recently partnered with Hope Shows, an organization that puts on free Christian concerts in prisons, and performed a Christmas show for the women at Lincoln Correctional Center in Lincoln, IL. In the spirit of giving, Groves is offering a free recording of the show on noisetrade.com with the option of donating to Hope Shows.
Both live albums and Christmas albums can be tricky. The former often lacks the polish and clarity of a studio recording, and the latter can end up as a rehash of songs listeners have heard ad nauseam. However, Groves avoids both these pitfalls with O Holy Night Tour: Live The Prison Show, a warm, intimate recording worthy of repeat listens.
Groves begins the show with "You Are the Sun," a song from her 2005 release, Add to the Beauty. From the opening notes, it is clear Groves is in her element, and this live version rivals the original. The song is followed by "Maybe There's a Loving God," an older song from her 2002 release, All Right Here. Next is the first true Christmas song, "Star of Wonder." The version is pretty much identical to the one found on 2009's O Holy Night, and leads straight into "It's True," an original from the same album. Groves then pauses to talk about the meaning and lyrics of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Her unique arrangement gives the familiar song a breath of fresh air. She follows it with "Pins," one of the best songs from last year's excellent Fireflies and Songs. Things slow down with the album's weakest song, "Angels We Have Heard on High." Groves' version, while at times enjoyable, often drags. Next, Groves tells the audience she wants to simulate a power outage. She turns off her microphone and invites them to sing a medley of carols. Hearing the chorus of voices with minimal instrumentation is touching the first time you hear it, but it's probably something you would skip on subsequent listens. Groves rounds out the show with "O Holy Night," a song that has probably been covered by every female singer in Christendom. However, like "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," Groves' changes the arrangement and creates a true original.
The inmates' voices and applause can be heard throughout the album, and their raw exhuberance is a great reminder that Christmas is a time of hope and joy. Groves' selection of songs from various albums keeps the recording from simply being a live version of O Holy Night, and the banter between songs is short and meaningful. O Holy Night Tour: Live The Prison Show is a great addition for any Groves' fan and is a risk free download for those who have yet to experience her music. Groves proves once again why she is one of the best in her genre.- Review date: 12/2/10, written by Laura Love of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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