Internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter/recording artist Jean Watson has released her Christmas album, For Unto Us from Shadowlands Records. The project is being distributed to retail by Elevate Entertainment.
The 11-song collection of classic carols features fresh arrangements by Watson, production by celebrated contemporary Christian music pioneer Billy Smiley (WhiteHeart) for Northern Shore Productions, and guest collaborations with CCM legends including Russ Taff ("What Child is This," "Silent Night"), David Meece ("One Small Child"), Phil Keaggy on acoustic and electric guitars, and Matt Slocum (of Sixpence None The Richer) on cello.
Q: Jean, so nice to catch up with you again. 2020 has been a very different and difficult year for many of us. How has 2020 been for you?
2020 has been challenging for me on many levels! I had some health challenges early in the year which slowed me down a bit. Then COVID really hit, and my travel/ministry schedule was completely shut down. That was tough. I realized that for so many years, I had found some of my "identity" in what I did as a musician and a speaker. I LOVE making music and inspiring people to love Jesus more!
Though I could certainly do that in some ways though the internet, I really missed the connections with people. It seemed like so many doors closed, at least temporarily, and there was great disappointment in that. The positive side, however, was getting to invest a lot more time into my family and even help lead worship at our local church.
Also, I wrote a new book called "Joy is a Verb" about finding joy in every season of life. Through it all, I learned that I could choose to find joy and contentment in God alone - not in what I do for Him.
Q: As we approach Christmas, what are your plans this year for Christmas?
Christmas will be different this year. Usually, this is my busiest time for travel and ministry, but this year my schedule is very light. Once again, I plan on focusing my heart on just loving the Lord and loving the people around me well. I will do a few concerts, however, and I can't wait to sing some songs from my latest Christmas album, "For Unto Us"!
Q: You have talked about your latest Christmas "For Unto Us" as one of your favorite records, why is that so?
I love Christmas music, and "For Unto Us" is actually my third full-length Christmas album. All the carols I chose for this collection are personal favorites. Each arrangement is authentic and unique - from the folksy "Cherry Tree Carol" to the full band splendor of "Joy to the World" and "For Unto Us/Emmanuel" which I penned. Other songs, such as "In the Bleak Midwinter", are beautifully intimate with more of a classical feel.
What makes this recording so special to me is not just the music, however. This is the first album I have made where I was able to I stay true to my vision from start to finish. Producer Billy Smiley did an absolutely stellar job of listening to my arrangement ideas and helping bring them to life. I was able to push some creative envelopes and have so much fun!
For instance, I told Billy I imagined myself as the main character in the song "The Little Drummer Boy". What would it have felt like to be trudging though the hot Middle Eastern desert to meet the Christ child? I wanted the listener to feel like he or she was right there in that moment. I think the music fully expresses the wonder of the beautiful story and is absolutely captivating!
I also thoroughly enjoyed recording the vocal and violin parts for this album, and I feel like my performances were some of the best of my lifetime. There was no fear or insecurity in the recording process, and I can hear that freedom in my voice! For me, I guess it took three Christmas albums to get me to that place of simply enjoying what I do and not caring so much about what people think.
Q: On this album, you have got to work with some giants in the industry, including Russ Tuff, David Meece and Phil Keaggy. How are they involved on the record? How was it working with them?
The uniqueness of each track on the album definitely comes from the array of talented artists who partnered with me. I was so thrilled to sing with the legendary Russ Taff AND David Meece! Russ joined me in two duets: "What Child is This" and "Silent Night". What an artist and what a humble guy he is! He was so so gracious and also funny! There was a lot of laughter in the studio the day he sang.
David Meece's song "One Small Child" has always been a favorite of mine. It brought me to my knees in worship when I first heard it years ago. Imagine my joy when David himself agreed to sing this special song with me! I got to meet him and tell him face to face how much his music had impacted me over the years.
Phil Keaggy has played guitar on several of my albums over the years and has become a personal friend. He is always gracious, always humble, and always amazing at what he does! I can't even describe how blessed I feel to know him and work with him. He plays on three tracks on the CD: "The Cherry Tree Carol", "What Child is This", and "The Little Drummer Boy". Unbelievable guitar work!
Q: What were some of the highlights for you in the making of this record?
I hadn't planned to write a song, but we were short one track, and Billy Smiley confidently told me that I would write it. I doubted him, but on interstate 65 traveling from Nashville to Michigan one day, these words came to me:
Come all you weary ones and seek Him
In a stable filled with hay you will find rest
You who are weary, kneel beside Him
There is healing in the holy baby's breath
Those lyrics were so out of the blue and so special that I knew I was writing a song whether I wanted to or not! When the words and music were finished, for me it became one of the most moving tracks on the album.
"Carol of the Bells" for solo violin is another standout track and a triumph of personal creativity. That song was a lot of work but so worth it! I had the idea in my mind, but communicating my concept and putting it together was like writing a symphony. I had never attempted anything like that before, but I am so so pleased with how it turned out. The icing on the cake was getting to record a music video for the song in Northern Ireland. We filmed me performing it in the woods at night with "fairy lights" surrounding me. The finished video is magical!
Q: What do you think is the main message of "For Unto Us"? How can these songs help or encourage us during these festive times?
The main message of the album is that we can all encounter Jesus just as the shepherds and "wise men" did so long ago. The Christmas story is not just something to remembered as a past event or a day to have parties and exchange gifts. Christmas is the possibility of an encounter with the Son of God himself. He revealed his love to us as a baby in a dirty stable - accessible, humble, vulnerable and completely available to all of us no matter how broken or needy we are. "For unto US a Son is born...."
Q: What are your plans for 2021?
Well, my plans are to try to keep my heart focused on the Lord and fulfill his plans for me! I hope to get my new book published. I'd love to create new music - I have another hymns album in my heart as well as a Celtic-style lullaby project. When Covid dies down, I hope to be able to return to Ireland to minister and visit the UK, France, and Mexico as well. I also do a lot of work for Prison Fellowship International and would love to get back into prisons again - visiting, of course!
For more information on Watson and to purchase, For Unto Us, visit jeanwatson.com.