November 11, 2009

"Christmas in Bethlehem" - our review!

After listening to “Christmas in Bethlehem” for almost a week, I can say this is clearly one of Carola’s best albums. Ever. In her 26 years as a Swedish superstar. Even though I wasn’t thrilled to find out she planned to release yet another Christmas album (the fifth of her career), I’m now very pleased she did. Even though “Jul i Betlehem” from 1999 is a great album, “Christmas in Bethlehem” is better in almost every way. Again: this is the best Christmas album Carola has recorded.

Carola has co-written four songs for the album, “Heaven In My Arms” has been translated to English by Terry Cox (who co-wrote “Love the World Away” with Carola and Arnie Roman), and she has done a great job. I think the song is even stronger in English, and Carola sings it with such depth and concern for the future of her newborn child.

“Heaven Turned Out to be a Child” is a sweet little song with lyrics by Erik Hillestad, performed as a duet with young and talented Julian Erlandsson.

Carola co-wrote “This Very Night the World Will Change” with Mikael Axelius, Stefan Almkvist, Peo Thyrén. The song was never my favorite (released in Swedish in 2007—“I denna natt blir världen ny”), and the English version, with lyrics by Erik Hillestad is no better. In fact, they should have asked Terry Cox to write the lyrics, where hers works perfectly in “Heaven In My Arms”, Hillestad’s is not as powerful…

And finally, Carola has co-written “Find My Way to Bethlehem” with Erik Hillestad, who also produced the album. This song is great and Carola sings it like there is no tomorrow. It’s a wonderful performance of a song that seems to be an instant favorite among her fans. Continue to write songs like this Carola, and your next album will be truly great!

This album contains so much sadness, but in a good way… Some songs (“Heaven In My Arms”, “Poor Little Jesus”) bring in the death that awaits the newborn Jesus and the atmosphere of the whole album (except for a few songs) is very somber. I love the middle-eastern sound that is consistent throughout the album, and Aygun Beyler and Mahsa Vahdat’s performances on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” are breathtaking. The African rhythms of “O Sanctissima” mixed with vocals in both English and Latin sounds fantastic. A brave and creative choice.

So what about the duets? Hans-Erik Dyvik Husby is perfect in “Silent Night”. Their voices sound great together and his huskiness brings another depth to the song—great choice of duet partner. Calling “Poor Little Jesus” a duet with Gladys del Pilar is not fair, when she is doing more of backup vocals on the track. She sounds great doing it, but it’s backup vocals never the less.

And then there is Paul Potts… Sorry to say, I wish this duet never had happened! Carola sings “O Holy Night” better than ever, but Potts sounds just about awful! This is not pop nor opera… So what is it? This will be the one track I skip over when I listen to this album all Christmas.

“Go Tell it on the Mountain” is the only song that has not been re-recorded for this album, and I think it becomes obvious that the vocal problems Carola had a few years ago are gone by now. If you compare her vocals on this song and “Find My Way to Bethlehem” you will hear a striking difference.

One song that would have fit on this album is “I Wonder As I Wander” from “Jul i Betlehem”, I really wish they had included it, as it fits the mood of “Christmas in Bethlehem” perfectly, but I guess you can’t get it all…

Again, this is a great, great album! Carola has explained in interviews how she feels increasingly comfortable working with this material, and it shows. She sings these songs with such conviction and humility, and a new depth that makes her voice sound great.

But promise that next time, we’ll get that pop album you keep talking about!

Have you heard the album yet? What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Hello, this is Terry Cox -- I accidentally came across this and am thrilled to see that this album was finally released! I was in Bethlehem with Carola and Erik for the recording, and it was a beautiful project -- Carola's voice and overall artistry was/is undeniable, and producer Erik Hillestad brings such a depth of understanding and sensitivity to every artist he works with. We constantly had tears in our eyes listening to Carola in the chapel over the Sepulchre from our little closet control room while we were recording. CONGRATULATIONS for a beautiful record! TERRY COX