Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Smalltown Poets is a Christian rock band formed in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia. Their first album SMALLTOWN POETS (1997) won a Dove Award for Best Rock Album and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Rock Album. It contained such great songs as ‘Prophet, Priest, and King’, ‘If You’ll Let me Love You’, ‘Everything I Hate’, and ‘Monkey’s Paw’. The Poets went on hiatus after 2004’s IT’S LATER THAN IT’S EVER BEEN. In 2010 they regrouped to begin work on a Christmas CD. They released a Christmas single ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ in December 2010. Of their fifth studio album CHRISTMAS (2011, Friendly City Records) their website says: “Smalltown Poets is back from a seven-year hiatus with an album that feels like a perfect Christmas gift from a longtime friend you didn’t expect to see.” The album was co-produced by their former drummer Matt Goldman (Underoath and Casting Crowns).

‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ uses bells and keyboards to good effect. It integrates words from another hymn that express a desire for the Christ to draw near: “Come Thou long expected Jesus/Born to set Thy people free/From our fears and sins release us/Let us find our rest in Thee/Emmanuel.” ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ by Christina Rossetti and Gustav T. Holtz is given a nice pop treatment. It reflects on how to properly respond to the nativity: “What shall I give Him/Poor as I am?/If I were a shepherd/I would bring a lamb/If I were a wise man/I would do my part/Yet, what can I give Him/I’ll give Him my heart.”

‘In the first Light’ written by Bob Kauflin in 1988 has great backing vocals. It looks ahead to the cruel death Christ would ultimately die: “As His mother held Him closely/It was hard to understand/That this baby not yet speaking/Was the Word of God to man/He would tell them of His kingdom/But their hearts would not believe/They would hate Him/And in anger they would nail Him to a tree.” Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe contributes sweet vocals to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. The song makes it clear that God wants to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us: “How silently, how silently/The wondrous gift is given/So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven/No ear may hear His coming/But in this world of sin/Where meek souls will receive Him still/The dear Christ enters in/O little town/Proclaim His birth/And praises sing to God our King/Cry peace to all the earth.”

‘St. Nick is Alright’ by Michael Johnston, Noah Stephens, and Danny Stephens, is fun, bouncy, and catchy: “Free my heart/For the sake of childhood wishes/With grateful thoughts/For the life of Father Christmas/His greatest gift is his belief/In the miracle and the mystery/To life (2X)/St. Nick is alright/He’s alright with me.” ‘Silent Night’ is a short, atmospheric instrumental.

‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ is upbeat musically and reflects on the historical event that gives us a reason to celebrate during the festive season: “Good Christian men rejoice/With heart and soul and voice/Give ye heed to what we say/Jesus Christ is born today/Ox and lamb before Him bow/And He is in the manger now/Christ is born today (2X).” ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ by Charles Wesley and Felix Mendelssohn waxes theological: “Christ by highest heaven adored/Christ the Everlasting Lord/Late in time behold Him come/Offspring of the Virgin’s womb/Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the incarnate Deity/Pleased as man with man to dwell/Jesus our Emmanuel/Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Glory to the newborn King.”

Next up, is a short musical interlude, ‘We Three Kings’, that is made to sound like it’s coming from an LP. ‘On Christmas Day (Ave Maria)’ by Poet Danny Stephens features Eric Sturniolo of the Georgia Boy Choir. The song contains these beautiful words: “Not a sweeter voice could ever my heart sway/Than the Savior’s call/This Christmas day/He is risen in me/This Christmas day/And His mercy stalls a glorious return/But I should urge this world/To despise delay/And to give up, give up all themselves/This Christmas day.”

‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ is a mysterious and glorious instrumental for the most part. ‘The First Noel’ has a cool percussive beat. Oh, to have been there the night Christ was born: “The first Noel, the angel did say/Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay/In fields where they lay keeping their sheep/On a cold winter’s night that was so deep/Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel/Born is the King of Israel.”

‘His Delight’ by Poets Michael Johnston and Danny Stephens, speaks of giving oneself completely to Christ who came to earth for us: “And as this heart peeks in/On that moment sublime/I find it all my joy/To offer heart, soul, and mind/To the perfect Son of love divine/And oh, His delight (2X).” The song is a relatively short, but great, original. ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ is a song of good cheer that makes use of a kid’s choir.

Over the years, Smalltown Poets have been compared to groups such as Jars of Clay, Matchbox Twenty, and The Waiting. What I can tell you is that this Christmas album is easily one of the best I have heard in recent years. The Poets offer up gorgeous, contemporary arrangements of holiday favourites and throw in a few originals to boot. Banjo, cello, classical guitar and strings help make this a memorable album, as do the smooth, easy to listen to vocals. If the Christmas carols have become stale to you, this record will bring them back to life for you and closer to your heart again. The album artwork which includes a sled, a hot beverage, a mitten, and a bird, is simple but appealing. I’m rating CHRISTMAS 95%. To purchase this product or the band’s new EP, visit www.smalltownpoets.tv.