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JFH Indie Review

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Critical Mass, 'Christmas is Real'
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Critical Mass
Christmas is Real

Street Date: November 12, 2023
Style: Christmas / Rock / Jazz / Pop
Buy It: Apple Music



After a heavy-laden album about the turmoil of divorce (2021's Serenity), Canadian rock band Critical Mass is back with something very different: a Christmas album. Christmas Is Real is mostly classic carols and covers, with a couple of original tunes, and it runs from alternative to acoustic to pop - there's even a little bit of that classic jazzy Christmas sound for good measure. For example, "Christmas Swinging" pulls from the likes of Frank Sinatra and Michael Buble, as vocalist David Wang croons about the olden days of Christmas music, accompanied by light drums and lounge music-style piano and brass. It's followed by a delightfully amusing alt/rock ballad called "Hallmark Christmas," which sees Wang dreading having to watch the cheesy movies while painfully recounting all of the goofy stereotypes and undercooked plot points. While these songs make it clear that Wang and company enjoy the lightheartedness of the season (along with their versions of songs like "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"), they also take time to honor the Lord and the birth of His Son. The album opens with a medley of "Joy to the World" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and the latter half is devoted to reverent carols, such as "O Holy Night," "In the Bleak Midwinter," and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." There's also a tender cover of Michael Card's "Joseph's Song," which takes the perspective of Joseph as he tries to comprehend the fact that his new baby is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords ("Father show me where I fit into this plan of Yours / how can a man be father to the Son of God? / Lord for all my life I've been a simple carpenter / how can I raise a king?"). One can only imagine how that once-in-history experience must have felt. The song is one of a few highlights on the tracklist for Christmas Is Real, in part because it's not a common song to find on a Christmas album. Each year, we're inundated with a whole new batch of Christmas albums, very few of which do much, if anything, to stand out or have some kind of personality. While the same can be said for some of Critical Mass' offering, they also inject enough personality and originality into the mix to make it a bit more interesting. If you're on the hunt for some new tunes for this holiday season, or maybe even some new additions to a Christmas playlist, give Christmas Is Real a shot.

- Review date: 11/29/23, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com



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JFH Staff's Second Opinion

    Much more lighthearted than Serenity, Critical Mass returns to the scene with a new Christmas album just in time for the season. From opening with a fun and rocking medley, "Joy to the World / God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," to the jazzy feel of Christmas standard "White Christmas," to the world music feel of "Do They Know It's Christmas?", Christmas is Real has a little bit of everything to offer fans of holiday music. It's easy to just throw a bunch of Christmas carols and covers together today, but Critical Mass offers listeners those Christmas classics along with several original songs as well. Of three originals, the jazzy "Christmas Swinging" is the most fun of the bunch as it just looks at the fun of the season and pays homage to the Christmas crooners of the past. It's packed full of nostalgia. The approach given to "O Holy Night" is also a standout moment as it almost feels like a new song. Something similar could also be said for "In the Bleak Midwinter" as brainchild David Wang makes the dreary song much more upbeat.

Christmas is Real is an enjoyable foray into Christmas tunes with Critical Mass offering enough diversity to keep it engaging. The new songs are appreciated and the new takes on old classics make it feel a little fresher. Christmas music fans will likely find Christmas is Real a joyful release this season. - Review date: 12/9/23, written by Michael Weaver of Jesusfreakhideout.com

 

 

 

. Record Label: Critical Mass Ministries
. Album length: 12 tracks: 47 minutes, 44 seconds
. Street Date: November 12, 2023
. Buy It: Apple Music

  1. Joy to the World / God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (3:34)
  2. White Christmas (feat. Nancy Bodsworth) (4:21)
  3. Christmas Is Real (5:23)
  4. Do They Know It's Christmas? (4:31)
  5. Christmas Swinging (4:50)
  6. Hallmark Christmas (4:38)
  7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (4:26)
  8. O Holy Night (3:21)
  9. Snow (3:15)
  10. In the Bleak Midwinter (3:18)
  11. Joseph's Song (3:18)
  12. O Come O Come Emmanuel (2:44)

 


 



  • Jesus Freak Hideout (Scott Fryberger): Your 2021 album, Serenity, dealt with heavy, serious subject matter. In contrast, Christmas Is Real is joyful and reflects the cheer of the holiday season. Was it a conscious decision to follow up Serenity this way, or did you just really want to make a Christmas album

    David Wang: Throughout the last 7 albums that we have released, I have always dreamed of recording a Christmas album. In fact, the original demo for 'Joy to the World/God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen' was recorded after our second album, so this album has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. As a huge lover of Christmas music (I have around 500 CDs and vinyl in this genre!), I am always on the lookout for cool arrangements and different takes on holiday favorites. This is why the styles and arrangements on this album are so eclectic. The variety of styles has also meant that I had to stretch myself vocally, so this has been the most challenging from a vocal perspective, particularly the jazzier numbers and, of course, 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,' where I had to hold that last note in a live setting for 20 seconds!

  • JFH (Scott): What are some of your favorite Christmas albums? And songs?

    David: I always make my own playlists because I love variety, so my favorite albums often are compilations, like the 'Very Special Christmas' album and a long-forgotten but brilliant Christian compilation album entitled 'Sparrow Christmas' from 1988. Albums like Bing Crosby's 'Merry Christmas,' Michael Bublé's Christmas albums, and the Amy Grant Christmas albums are among my favorites as well. I also adore George Winston's 'December,' an instrumental album that inspired the song 'Snow' on our album, which was written, arranged, and performed by my wife, April. In terms of individual songs, my favorite has been Kevin Max's 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter,' which we've paid tribute to on our album with a modern updated arrangement.

  • JFH (Scott): Most of the songs are covers and classics with only a few originals. Did you go into the album with the intention of writing your own material along with the covers?

    David: I conducted some research before creating this album. When examining the top 10 Christmas albums of all time, the average included about three original songs per album, although Celine Dion's album skewed this number with seven originals! We decided on four originals to offer listeners a sense of familiarity with a touch of new material. Two of the originals were inspired by my newfound hobby of swing and blues dancing. 'Christmas Swinging' draws lyrical inspiration from Stevie Wonder's 'Sir Duke' as a tribute to jazz greats, while 'Christmas is Real' aims to provide comfort to those experiencing hardship during the holiday season, influenced by the pain and heartache explored in our previous album, 'Serenity.' Additionally, I've always been intrigued and bewildered by Hallmark Christmas movies, so I couldn't resist crafting a song about that holiday phenomenon!

  • JFH (Scott): Some artists I follow do annual Christmas shows. Do you anticipate playing any of these songs in a live setting?

    David: We are indeed doing just that, albeit with a completely different show experience. We tested our show concept in 2023, using music from the 'Serenity' album. Especially post-pandemic, we've noticed that many venues still struggle to afford a full band experience. To tackle this issue, we've employed state-of-the-art multimedia software along with my experience as a videographer (I was even nominated for Video of the Year by the Canadian Gospel Music Association). Our show combines song, video, and even dance into a lively and interactive event, performed by my wife and me. With just the two of us and the ability to run the show from a single laptop, Critical Mass can now offer performances that meet the financial needs of even small organizations and church groups.

  • JFH (Scott): Have you started writing for your next album, or are you letting this one breathe first?

    David: We have an eventful year lined up for 2024. We're collaborating with various partners to take our multi-media show for 'Serenity' on tour. Additionally, we're developing a distinct Christian rock experience and a more secular show to offer a diverse range of performances for our audiences. What's particularly thrilling is our exploration into creating our first musical! The script has been penned, and most of the songs come from the album 'Serenity.' I'm delighted to mention that 'Christmas Swinging' plays a prominent role in our musical! This venture into the world of musical theatre marks our initial steps into this exciting journey, and we're incredibly enthusiastic about it.

  • JFH (Scott): What do you hope listeners take away from the album and your music in general?

    David: I truly hope our audience enjoys the variety of styles on this album. As I mentioned earlier, I adore creating playlists, and I feel this album has that eclectic vibe. Above all, we aspire that our blend of secular and sacred tunes will serve as a reminder of the true essence behind our holiday celebrations. In collaboration with Chalice (www.chalice.ca), we've crafted a video to spread Christmas cheer worldwide. You can watch it here: [Link]. Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and may 2024 be filled with blessings for all!

    The link is https://youtu.be/L0xvBkrGj0I?si=ZSCXx3OEUZX3p52b

     

     

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