Prime Cuts: All the World Awaits (Hosanna), Hope of Israel, Hallelujah
Overall Grade: 4/5
Chris Tomlin loves Christmas music. Emmanuel: Christmas Songs of Worship is his third festive record. If you love his worship albums, you will love this set too. He isn't one to make background music for us to listen to as we wrap our Christmas gifts or decorate our trees. Rather, these songs are made for worship both corporately as well as individually. This means that these 12 selections are all God-centered in its content and singable in its execution. Moreover, Tomlin has also invited worship artists such as We the Kingdom, Matt Redman, and CeCe Winans to join him in the vocal department.
However, when it comes to writing original Christmas worship songs, there is the perennial challenge of trying to say something fresh about the Christ event. The struggle becomes evident for Tomlin on the title cut "Emmanuel God with Us." The song recycles through all the standard tropes of the Christmas story from the Isaiah prophecies to the Gospel accounts without saying anything new. "All the World Awaits (Hosanna)" is a tad better as Tomlin keys in on the forlorn expectation of the Messiah before exploding with the good news in the chorus. "Christmas Day" sounds too cluttered and busy; maybe if he were to forego the backing vocals of We the Kingdom, the track might sound better.
Tomlin teethers on dangerous ground when he puts a new melody to the traditional carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Normally, it's hard to improve on a classic; but here Tomlin does a splendid job in crafting a new tune that is endearing. "Hope of Israel" is easily the best track on the album. Written by Hillsong's Reuben Morgan & Ben Fielding, Jason Ingram, and Chris Tomlin, "Hope of Israel" has a gorgeous melody with a bigger than life message. Re-telling how this hope that once only belonged to Israel now has worldwide benefits, "Hope of Israel" is a stunner. CeCe Winans shows what a voice she has as she soars and croons on the evergreen hymn "O Holy Night."
Matt Redman joins Tomlin on the traditional hymn "Crown Him." Not often associated with Christmas, Tomlin has tweaked the words so that it fits the season. Worship leaders who want something familiar yet new may do well to take a note of this song. With all of that said, the production to the record sounds more like a normal worship album. Considering that this is a Christmas album, Tomlin could have done better if there were more strings or bells to make the songs sound more festive. Other than this quibble, this record offers wonderful moments of God-centered worship.