The duo 33Miles debuted a few years ago, brought to the national stage by INO Records. Their country-infused style has given them a unique voice in the crowded Christian music marketplace. It also makes their music eminently accessible to listeners outside of the “Christian” music niche. Their latest release, Believe, brings 33Miles’ style to Christmas music.
Believe kicks off with a medley of the carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Sing to the King,” the worship song popularized by the Passion Worship Band. The guitar-driven track is a successful melding of the two songs – songs whose lyrics are surprisingly complementary. Upbeat and inviting, the medley gets the album off to a good start. From there we move on to “Finally Christmas,” one of the original tracks on the release. Whimsical and fun, this song exudes the joy of finally reuniting with that person you’ve been waiting for to celebrate the holiday. The carol “Joy to the World” follows, freshened with a new chorus and done in an upbeat style typical of 33Miles.
After the strong lead-off of those three sing-alongable songs, the album tosses a change-up with the Christmas standard “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Unfortunately, the change is uninspired, feeling flat and pedestrian. To be fair, it’s difficult to take a song so familiar (and so frequently recorded) and elevate it to something special; nevertheless, the album loses a lot of steam at this point.
Continuing on in the gentler vein, “O Holy Night” is next on the playlist. Done in a simple, acoustic style, this traditional carol plays well, though not exceptionally. This is followed by another carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” with a similarly simple acoustic arrangement, producing a similar result.
Believe begins to return to form with “I Could Not Come to You,” an original entry. Nominally Christmas-themed, this track comes across as a straight-up 33Miles radio release, featuring their driving country style with a taste of gospel influence. While it doesn’t seem entirely out of place here, I could hear this song in mid-July without giving it a second thought.
The album then turns to back to a carol with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” With a new melody, close harmonies, a lots of ear candy strings, this fresh take on the traditional song is uplifting and refreshing. It sets the stage well for the original ballad that follows, “I Believe in Christmas.” The gentle but inspiring song might even elicit a tear or two if you’re in the right mood. After pulling on your heart strings, 33Miles returns to carols to close out the album with a quiet medley of “Away in a Manger / Silent Night / The First Noel.” It’s a good way to close out the album, allowing the listener to reflect a bit on the whole experience. The carols here are so familiar and done so gently that little is demanded of you, which is particularly good following the emotional “I Believe in Christmas.”
Overall, Believe delivers a solid set of tracks that are true to 33Miles’ established style. They are at their best when re-imagining a song or working with new material. Taking traditional Christmas songs and presenting them in a traditional way is their weakness, though it is a common theme found in most Christmas albums, regardless of artist. And, by the end, the band seems to have gotten a handle on the issue and delivers solid efforts to close out the collection. Filled with themes of hope, Believe will make a nice addition to your Christmas library — though I might skip some of the songs in the middle when adding it to your iPod.