Phil Wickham is easily one of the best songwriters of this generation. A modern-day hymn writer, Wickham is well-known for the strength of his pen, but in the midst of admiration for his impressive lyrical prowess, the power of his vocal talents are often overlooked. That’s why 2019’s “Christmas” is a true gift in and of itself. On an album filled with covers, Wickham’s voice is given permission to truly shine.
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Clear, pristine and unmistakably unique, Wickham’s unvarnished vocal lights up the 10 tracks that comprise his second full-length Christmas collection. At times, the three-time GRAMMY® nominee is joined by a choir, other times he flys solo; but either way, he takes the lead with an immaculate range that feels tailor-made for these seasonal recordings.
Although he only wrote a handful of the songs showcased on the project, “Christmas” immediately feels at home in Wickham’s discography. A set of mostly sacred songs, the LP heralds the birth of Christ with familiar carols doused in the singer/songwriter’s now signature blend of worshipful pop. In Wickham’s intentional hands, even the most overplayed standards feel current, thanks to progressive arrangements and his addition of newly minted choruses he deftly sprinkles here and there, effortlessly giving churches around the world fresh versions of beloved selections to incorporate into their setlists during Advent.
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Opening with a pop-friendly rendition of “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and a fan-favorite reimagining of “Joy to the World (Joyful, Joyful),” the SoCal native proves his subtle West Coast vibes work just as well during the holiday season as they do throughout the year. Lush strings back him on “Away in a Manger (Forever Amen),” while a simple piano accompanies him on “Angels We Have Heard On High,” an absolutely exquisite track reminiscent of the simple, stunning production that defined Wickham’s earliest work.
The father of four puts a twist on “Star of Wonder” as he transforms “We Three Kings” into an atmospheric worship anthem. Further down the tracklisting, he adds his indelible stamp to “What Child Is This” before closing out the offering by refreshing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” with added sentiments of peace, joy and love. Additionally, Wickham unexpectedly helms holiday classic “A Christmas Waltz,” first recorded by Frank Sinatra and since covered by numerous artists of all genres through the years.
Although the “frosted window panes…” B-side hit is an unorthodox pick, the record’s biggest surprise comes in the form of track five, “This Year For Christmas,” an original love song penned by Wickham and his longtime collaborator and friend, Jonathan Smith. Fitted with a retro groove, the pop detour is a rarity for the “I Believe” singer and a deviation both lyrically and musically. Yet, it isn’t the only time he’s dedicated a song to his wife, Mallory. In fact, for their 15th wedding anniversary this year, Wickham wrote and released “Just Too Good,” a musical retelling of their love story and a beautiful portrait of longterm commitment.
Another original is revealed in “Face of God,” the kind of faire you’d expect from the chart-topper, who wrote the song with Shane & Shane’s Shane Barnard and Shane Everett. A poetically descriptive track, it hones in on the nativity, Mary’s perspective and the singular moment that forever changed history. Although the new tracks are well-crafted, Wickham’s voice remains the jewel in the “Christmas” crown through and through.
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Whether brimming with traditional arrangements or future classics, the best seasonal collections are meant to be enjoyed year after year, and it goes without saying that Wickham’s “Christmas” is a holiday record worthy of repetition. However, it’s not the first time the treasured lyricist has celebrated the season in musical style. He unveiled his first holiday effort, “Songs for Christmas,” in 2011; and in 2020, he gave “Christmas” the full acoustic treatment — a tradition he’s continued with many of his studio sets.
While no full-length Christmas LP is planned for 2023, Wickham did release original single “Manger Throne” this year, and he’ll reprise his highly anticipated annual “BEHOLD Christmas Nights” tour in select cities this season with special guest Tasha Cobbs Leonard.