A diversity of styles and excellent arrangements make this a dynamic soundtrack for the celebration of Christ's birth.

Comfort and Joy
Highlands Worship
Label: The Fuel Music
Length: 10 tracks/32 minutes

Diverse styles and excellent arrangements and production make Comfort and Joy by Highlands Worship a spiritual delight. Christ is the focus but this does not exclude festive moments.

It starts with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” which with running time of 2:18 is like an introduction. All male voices sing in unison on energetic vocal parts that are supplemented by percussive flourishes and a full orchestra.

The orchestra is present throughout as an enhancing, wondrous presence. It makes for a greater tapestry of sound.

The next song, “Away in a Manger” is a highlight, benefiting from an R&B treatment. It’s a significant improvement on the original melody and structure. It’s smooth, relaxed and joyful.

“Carol of the Bells” is an instrumental with a strong Mannheim Steamroller influence. It’s a wild ride. The intricate blend of diverse acoustic and electric instruments is amazing. It starts slowly with a wintry vibe and then accelerates into electric guitar pyrotechnics about half way through before the cold chill returns.

This is followed by a reading of the nativity story taken from Luke 2:1-14. This is the same account portrayed in A Charlie Brown Christmas. A female narrator speaks in dignified voice over a background of appropriate music.

“O Come All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night” are straightforward and likable renderings. “O Holy Night” features a strong male lead that reminded me of Josh Groban before it becomes a duet with an equally strong female singer. Just before this song there is a brief musical interlude that like the other instrumental has a contemporary seasonal feel.

“Greater” and “Silent Night” are seamlessly joined with the former being an original song in the modern worship mode. “Silent Night” starts with voices quietly singing together and gradually building in intensity musically and vocally.

Though the styles on this release differ, the song choices, arrangements and production make for a cohesive sound. This was recorded during the 2020 Christmas season at the church using a 55 member orchestra. That’s in addition to a worship team with more than a 1,000 members and full and part-time musicians numbering more than 70. It’s amazing how well they all work together to provide moments of wonder and devotion.

This group is the worship ministry of Church of the Highlands based in Birmingham, AL.

Michael Dalton