Today I’m featuring Signature Sound’s first (and best) Christmas recording, with the lineup of Ryan, Doug and Tim. If I’m not mistaken, it came out in 2004. This caught the group between their “Stand By Me” and “Get Away Jordan” eras. It is one of my favorite Christmas albums. Even though it’s definitely southern gospel, it also has a somewhat contemporary flavor. It blends the group’s traditional and progressive leanings together quite nicely.
The Star On Top: “Come Make a Place” — This is a great ballad, easily my favorite track. It has a mellow 80s feel, the perfect fit for Doug Anderson. It recalls progressive Imperials balladry. There’s even a pretty cracking electric guitar solo on the final chorus. As non-SG as it sounds, EHSS takes on the style with remarkable ease. And it’s an excellent song.
“A Quartet Christmas” — Call it cutesy, but I’ve always had fun with this song. The lyrics are cleverly done, and it follows in a long southern gospel tradition of talking about quartet singing in a quartet song. “But if the bass could go low… And the tenor sing higher…” Try not to hum along to this one.
“Glory to God in the Highest” — EHSS’s cover of this quartet favorite has become a staple for them. It was used to kick off their self-titled DVD, and they still use it as a bookend for their concerts today. This version with Tim Duncan is the best arrangement of the song ever recorded, in my humble opinion.
“The First Noel” — This is a low-key acapella take on the familiar carol. An interlude of “O Holy Night” is unexpected and gives it some excitement. Pure acapella pleasure.
Stocking Stuffer: “The Night Heaven Kissed Earth” — This ballad seems to have been forgotten, but it’s a beautiful, reverent meditation on the Incarnation. The music has a wandering minor-key feel, tastefully accompanied by some classical-sounding guitar.
Heaven was silent as angels stood by
Anxiously waiting to hear His first cry
His journey from glory to a Bethlehem stall
Brought God down to man and gave hope to all…
Stale Cookies: “Is it Christmas Yet?” It’s cute but it doesn’t jump out and grab me.
The Coal in the Bottom: “Christmas Medley” — Entirely composed of fluffy secular carols, this is sort of cute but ultimately leaves you wanting to move on.
Other good tracks include the surprisingly punchy “Tonight” and a smooth-as-silk take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “Who Do You Think” is a quiet little number that I like as a song, though it never seemed to fit Timmy Duncan’s voice. I think Ian Owens carries it much better now (you can hear his version on their new Christmas EP).
Any fan of “that lineup” shouldn’t think twice about adding this project to their collection if he hasn’t already. I’m sure many would agree with me that the Ryan/Doug/Tim configuration was the high point of EHSS’s career. Not that Devin and Ian aren’t talented in their own way, but there was something special about that lineup. That excellent blend, combined with smart and satisfying song choices, makes this record a stand-out in their discography. Many Christmas projects are tired, uninspired affairs rushed out to make a little cash between albums, but this one does not disappoint.