Artist: Hillsong
Title: Born Is the King
Label: Hillsong Music

The Australia-based Hillsong worship conglomerate continues to remain busy, churning out studio material and live albums, while maintaining a regular touring slate. The team—led most notably by singer/songwriters Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan—ventures back into the holiday season with an eight-song EP, Born Is the King, its first Christmas release in six years.

King contains a few of Hillsong’s signature moments, but is a bit too limited and perhaps too wide-ranging in musical style to truly hit its stride. On the whole, the original stuff here is more compelling than the group’s arrangements of traditional carols. These two original tracks, “Born Is the King (It’s Christmas)” and “Emmanuel” are both excellent compositions. The former has a folk-tinged celebratory feel with a thumping bluegrass rhythm section. “Emmanuel,” written by Morgan, is a quiet, but powerful worship number, with Zschech’s plaintive vocals soaring over the chorus as she sings, “Hallelujah, you have come to us, you make all things new. Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, you’ll never let me go, my shepherd King, you’re watching over me.” Although it’s a Christmas song, the sentiment expressed in Morgan’s lyric is relevant year-round. When Zschech and the team finally hit the song’s climax, it’s powerful stuff. “O Come Let Us Adore Him,” is a nice arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful” which opens with chiming keyboard and choral vocals in the vein of Arcade Fire, but shifts into echo-laden drums on the chorus.

The arrangements of traditional carols aren’t quite as rousing. A banjo-backed arrangement of “Joy to the World” comes off a bit plodding, and can’t quite retain the spirit of the original, and a version of “We Three Kings” falls a bit flat. “O Holy Night” is fairly standard. A quiet version of “Silent Night” ends the EP on a meditative tone, with group vocals and plucked acoustic guitar retaining the sanctity of the original.

As Christmas offerings go, Born Is the King doesn’t have quite enough fresh musical ideas to make it noteworthy in a crowded field of seasonal releases. For those looking for a pick-me-up from one of the leading lights of worship music, however, it more than makes its mark.

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