Steven Curtis Chapman is one of the few artists I’ve listened to for over 20 years.
Yeah, I’m dating myself. Give me a minute to digest how old I feel right now.
Okay, we can move on.
I still remember buying his 1990 album, For the Sake of the Call, on cassette tape. Although, not to date myself too much, I’m pretty sure that even though it was on tape, my 13-year-old self bought it a couple years after its release. But I digress.
My point is, that in my book, Chapman is one of those rare CCM artists who remains musically relevant by evolving with time without altering the core of who he is. A singer-songwriter whose first albums were characterized by soft rock, pop, and country, he’s not afraid to venture out of his comfort zone. Take for example, his 1992 attempt at rapping in “Got to B Tru” or the ukulele on his 2011 song, “Long Way Home.” As a long-time Chapman fan, even I wasn’t expecting to see him pick up the Hawaiian-born stringed instrument. But Chapman is one of those artists who successfully and masterfully embraces “the new.”
And with his third — yes, as in numero tres — Christmas album, Joy, Chapman continues to expand. While he offers listeners his trademark pop sound, he ventures into some Michael Buble territory, peppering the album with jazz, and as CCM Magazine calls them, “retro throwbacks.”
Recorded in his birth state of Kentucky, Joy features thirteen songs, six of which are originals. New songs include the “Jingle Bell Rock” flavored “Christmas Time Again,” the Nate King Cole inspired “Christmas Kiss,” and “Christmas in Kentucky” — a track Chapman effectively incorporates both an African children’s choir and a banjo into. When it comes to the classics, such as “Joy to the World,” “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and “We Three Kings,” Chapman approaches them respectfully, yet in doing so, offers his own take on these Christmas favorites.
For me, the best aspect of this project are the vocals. Minimal effects were applied to Chapman’s voice, allowing it to shine. This is refreshing in an era of auto-tune and over-processing.
What makes this album specifically noteworthy, though, is that it marks a new chapter for Chapman following the death of his daughter, Maria. It’s a chapter where, as he shares, “the sweet is starting to outweigh the bitter for us more and more. Christmas is becoming a less hard thing for us each year.”
It’s this sweetness — and yes, joy — that ranks this new album “most listened to” at my house, right alongside my time-tested favorites: Michael Buble’s Christmas and James Taylor’s A Christmas Album.