Philippa Hanna – ‘Christmas – The Greatest Story’ Review

Philippa Hanna’s latest release remains firmly in the realm of Gospel music with a Christmas EP that comes hot on the heels of Christian worship album ‘Stained Glass Stories’. Whilst the latter may have been full of the Country singer-songwriter’s original material, ‘Christmas – the Greatest Story’ is packed with covers of well-known carols both ancient and modern. There may be nothing ground-breaking in its contents but there is a fresh air that blows through the songs as Philippa Hanna delivers them with her usual passion and depth of feeling.

Opening track ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’ begins with the delightful creation of the sound of falling snow. The single bar notes of a piano and the light picking of an acoustic guitar combine to present a rather picturesque scene that becomes an invitation into a moment of intimate celebration. The music steadily builds to a sort of crescendo before cutting, perhaps abruptly, to a few strums of a guitar to finish. It makes the song’s end feel slightly premature, a criticism that I would also give to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. The light and airy atmosphere that forms at the start of this track also grows gradually to a swell of praise that suddenly seems to peter out just as one final rouse is expected. It is the only disappointment on an EP that is otherwise pleasantly crafted.

Philippa Hanna sings ‘Silent Night’ at a slightly faster pace than most versions, her focus appearing to be on the story told by the lyrics rather than on the vocal cadences and inflections that are normally so prevalent in the song’s delivery. It makes for renewed interest in an old favourite that is hard to reinterpret to give a sense of originality. Philippa just manages to achieve this, as she does on ‘The First Noel’. Her lustrous vocals embolden the words which are then tempered by the gentle ones of Nathan Jess in the chorus, making for a smooth and measured sound that floats like a snowflake against the white light of a winter moon.

Philippa Hanna ends the EP by taking on two songs originally composed by artists who duet with her here. There is no ego from either Graham Kendrick or Paul Baloche though that prevents Hanna from putting her own stamp on these tracks. Not that she reinvents them; rather, she makes small alterations that breathe new life into ‘Thorns in the Straw’ and Baloche’s ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing/King of Heaven’ mash-up. The former retains its bittersweet folk sound whilst being joined by a bunch of quivering strings that create a similar Spanish flavour to that found on Kacey Musgraves’ ‘A Very Kacey Christmas’. Meanwhile, the latter builds from a bluegrass-infused introduction into a fantastically-uplifting, soul-inspired, acoustic-pop number which breaches the boundaries of its neat, Christmas carolling context to become a powerful statement of Hanna’s own faith and the hope that it can instil. And given that the world could do with some hope right now, this feels particularly apt. It offers one final fragrant burst to what is a delightful EP from Philippa Hanna.

Review written by Gareth Williams (twitter.com/lostinbluejazz1)

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