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Intersection of Life and Faith

Looking for Christmas

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 11 Nov
  • COMMENTS
Looking for Christmas
Sounds like … a cozy cross of the organic pop from Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin and Amy Grant with the jazzy touch of Paula Cole.At a glance … Ali Matthews applies her earthy creativity towards a blend of curious covers, reflective originals, and few vibrantly interpreted seasonal standards. Track ListingLove Came Down at ChristmasI'll Be Home For ChristmasLooking For ChristmasIt Came Upon a Midnight ClearThe Cry of BethlehemMaryThe First NoelThere's a StarGet Me Through DecemberIn the Bleak MidwinterSilver BellsOne Small ChildO Come O Come Emmanuel / What Child Is ThisCount Your BlessingsCelebrate Me HomeThe Cry of Bethlehem (instrumental)

She may be an unfamiliar name in the narrow scope of American Christian music, but Ali Matthews is hardly a newcomer, with five studio CDs to her name and now this holiday collection. The Canadian singer/songwriter has earned plenty of acclaim in her homeland, plus the admiration of her peers, including recently departed Christian music pioneer Larry Norman, Celtic-styled artist Loreena McKennitt, and famed producer/songwriter Jim Vallance (Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith, Heart, Bryan Adams).

The appreciation is understandable considering Matthews' gift for honest lyrics within the framework of her faith, woven around earthy arrangements that are intoxicatingly comforting and cozy. Given the chilly weather so typical of Canada, it's no wonder these elements work together so naturally on Looking For Christmas, which spans a generous sixteen tracks split between familiar favorites, some curious covers, and originals reflecting on the season.

Among the new songs, the title track is a warm acoustic ballad reminiscent of Amy Grant's timeless holiday classics as Matthews ponders the true meaning of the season amidst all the snow and shopping distractions. She also provides personal imagery of winter's joyfulness and peace throughout the string-enhanced pop track "The Cry of Bethlehem." And the folk-flavored "There's a Star" points out the significance of the three wise men's journey with a striking resemblance to Shawn Colvin.

Matthews also addresses her alternative country spirit throughout a jaw dropping cover of Patty Griffin's tear-jerking "Mary," which pays tribute to all the social and spiritual struggles faced by the virgin mother as she carried Christ. The tone is more light-hearted with Kenny Loggins' nostalgic "Celebrate Me Home," where Matthews impresses by showing an even sweeter vocal range, assisted by a soulful backing choir.

Even the more obvious selections are spun with appealing arrangements that don't dwell on the same old formulas replicated on so many other Yuletide projects. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" adapts a jazzy flair akin to Paula Cole, while "Silver Bells" struts with a very subtle hint of Southern charm. There's even a seamless medley of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "What Child Is This," bathed in a beautiful fiddle progression that perfectly complements Matthews' tender drawl.

It's rare to find a holiday collection that hits so many musical styles and still sounds so cohesive—not to mention the extensive track listing with its depth of songwriting. Though Matthews' longtime fans will certainly be pleased, Looking for Christmas is so fulfilling that new listeners are bound to be curious enough to check out her back catalogue.

For more information on Ali Matthews, visit www.alimatthews.com.

© Andy Argyrakis, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.