Music Monday: Weston Skaggs - Stories For Christmas!
Release Date: November 3, 2017
There are really 2 categories of people when it comes to Christmas music. There are those who ascribe to the idea that nothing should be heard until after Thanksgiving and actually get quite irate if they start hearing those holiday classics any sooner. Then there are those who are more flexible and are at least open to the thought of Christmas melodies appearing a little earlier…perhaps even once October is done. I must say I belong to the second camp and that I truly enjoy Christmas music. There’s a special feeling I get when we break out all the old records and start decorating, trimming the tree, and gearing up the festivities early. I readily admit that I might be wrong and I might be in the minority. But for now, I’ve got the keyboard on my side!
Weston Skaggs, a worship artist with an EP (Dust and Clay) and LP (Joy & Sorrow Meet) already under his belt, has now released his third studio album, Stories For Christmas! Produced by Chris Hoisington (Brothers McClurg) at Old Bear Studio in New York, this album is full of what I would call a familiar “classic Christmas” vibe. At the same time, it mixes in a new sound with varied instrumentations. Eight tracks in all, two of which are instrumental, Weston has managed to offer the listener a very fresh take on Christmas music…something of which breaks the mold when one acknowledges much of the cookie-cutter approach seen year after year.
The album begins with “Wise Men Still Seek Him,” a song with a title many of us have probably seen on a bumper sticker or heard in a sermon title. It’s truth is compelling: wise men do still seek Jesus and “those who lay down their pride and turn to the light…” are the ones to whom salvation is near. An upright bass and palm-muted guitar carry the tune as it builds throughout each chorus. The ooo’s and ahh’s appearing toward the end make me immediately think of the old vinyl Christmas records I fell in love with as a kid.
“Dickens Song” is a strummy upbeat track drawing upon the idea that Christmas is a thought we hold in our hearts; something that is year-round and not just a one time experience during the calendar. The message is convicting because I know this is the approach I have taken to the holiday, as many of us do. The final chorus once again brings the listener back to a familiar theme:
So on this Christmas eve
When the kids are off to sleep
And Nat King Cole is singing Oh Holy Night
By the glow of these lights
Again I will decide
To honor and keep Christmas in my heart
Minor-sounding melodies are a huge part of the hymnody of Christmas music and appear perhaps like no other genre (think O Come O Come Emmanuel or What Child Is This?). Skaggs’ "Bethlehem Town" has that minor feel accompanied by an almost a jazzy shuffle underscoring it. The lyrics are narrative in nature and retell the Christmas story. It begins with asking “Well have you heard about a stir down in Judah land?” and ends with a disgraced King Herod in the light of a new King…the Prince of Peace. The deep vocal range Weston displays lends itself well to retelling the Christmas story in song.
“Prepare Him Room” is the type of track that calls for a response in our hearts. Every year at Christmas we have to examine once again: what do we do with the baby in the manger? Weston helps us get there as he leads a worship-centered chorus that begs the question “When He knocks upon your door, would you open it up for the Lord?” This song would lend itself well for congregational singing on a Sunday morning.
The soft-toned "Wintersong" is up after the ambient instrumental track "Snowscape"; something which puts a nice break into the album. Wintersong develops the idea that as a season, winter must always come but it doesn’t hold back the life that inevitably follows (The winter’s never held back life). It’s a great metaphor for spiritual thought and the lyrics are poetic and well-versed against the breathy, almost whisper-like vocals Skaggs displays.
Folk-like in nature, closing track "Was It Really A Silent Night?" asks many of the questions I’m sure we’ve all had as we’ve considered the miraculous virgin birth. As humanity and divinity met on that night of all nights, what were the emotions of each player in the narrative? What thoughts ran through their head? As the song moves along, the lyrics take a turn towards application; of again asking how we respond to what that night means (I’m convinced Weston has a gift for this in his writing!). I’m loving this song and it’s a perfect conclusion to a fun yet deeply meaningful and challenging Christmas project.
When the incarnate Christ came to share in our strife
And meet us in the mess to set all things right
Was it really a silent night?
I know it’s early but Christmas will be here before long and albums like Stories For Christmas! are a rare find these days. It’s well worth your time to download (or purchase the CD) and start listening as you begin preparing room in your heart for worship of the Savior during this holiday season. It’s the kind of moment where worship can begin but it doesn’t have to end when the season is over. Let Stories For Christmas! lead you right into a New Year with a fresh commitment and desire to grow in your faith with the Lord.
Until the next #musicmonday, God bless!