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How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas
Artist: Downhere
http://www.downhere.com/
Label: Centricity Records 
Time: 13 Tracks/44.38 Minutes

Every year before the autumn leaves turn colors the music shops are loaded up with a boatload of new Christmas/Holiday releases.  The sheer volume of Yuletide-themed releases that hit the store like a ton of snow in a raging blizzard is amazing.  Sadly, many of these releases are just average; tiresome retreads of over--familiar tunes cranked out like cheap sausage.  There are few that rise to the top of the Christmas music din; the latest from Downhere How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas manages to do just that by sounding fresh, classic, and even snappy (check out the lighthearted power pop of “Christmas in Our Hearts”). 

How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas features a nice selection of classic Christmas carols (and by classic I mean old, not retro ‘60s pop culture tunes).  The classics are treated with respect and rendered in a memorable, straightforward, mostly acoustic fashion that does not veer far from the original while adding some classy touches.  For example: “Silent Night” is presented as a stark, sparsely ornamented solemn hymn, with a tasteful vocal duet by co-lead vocalists Marc Martel and Jason Germain.  The funky acoustic “Good King Wenceslas” will have you grabbing a pot or pan to drum along.  In addition to the classic carols, Downhere adds some tasty new cuts: the aforementioned pop of “Christmas in Our Hearts,” “Gift Carol,” and the radio hit “How Many Kings” (which appears in several versions: the original and the “re-imagined” version).

How Many Kings: Songs for Christmas is a Christmas release worth picking up.  And it is available for only $9.99 at the Downhere web site. Check it out:

http://www.downhere.com/

Barry Nothstine hosts Soul Frequency (http://www.soulfrequency.com ) a weekly FM radio show showcasing progressive rock, instrumental rock, power-pop, psychedelic rock, rock classics and moregreat rocck for the ages! 


How Many Kings by Downhere springs in part from the success of the title track, which originally appeared on their last recording, Ending is Beginning, as a bonus. The song, which had significant airplay on Christian radio, is included here in its original form and in a slightly re-imagined version at the end. Recording a Christmas album was also the natural outgrowth of being a part of the Bethlehem Skyline Tour with other Centricity artists. Catch the 2009 tour if you can. 

Though the title song may be the favorite, there is much more to enjoy. Whether new or old, most songs are done in Downhere’s pop/rock style with acoustic sounds more in evidence. There are also some lovely musical interludes that reflect the wonder of the season.  

As far as content goes, most songs contain substantive Christian reflections. The exceptions are “5 Golden Rings,” which only lasts long enough for you to hear those memorable words, and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which has a down-home, Salvation Army band sound. These were thrown in for fun.

I have heard instrumental versions of “Good King Wenceslas” and “Bring a Torch, Isabella” but rarely, if ever, have I heard the lyrics as you do here. The former is a blues-flavored rumble and the later a favorite with its pleasant melody, vocal tradeoffs and mesmerizing guitar.

The two co-front men, guitarist Marc Martel and keyboardist Jason Germain, are both outstanding on vocals. The musicianship and production are excellent. I especially enjoy the chiming guitar work that provides the winsome hooks.

Another favorite is the upbeat “Christmas in Our Hearts,” which has a strong feel-good vibe. It’s punctuated by horns that are as clear as a cold winter’s morning. Chase the blues away with this song.

“Silent Night” is a beautiful, stripped-down affair with piano, vocals, strings and a little acoustic guitar at the end. “What Child is This” is in classical guitar mode with vocals that have a pristine quality. 

Downhere has done an excellent job of fusing their style with the more familiar melodies. They add just the right amount of creativity, which makes this accessible to a wide audience. This is a great way not only to celebrate the birth of Christ, but ten years together and seven recordings, not counting their initial independent release.

Michael Dalton
November 12, 2009


 
 

 
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