Christmas songs in October? Usually I'd be the first to complain. There's nothing worse than popping into a shop that's belting out seasonal music weeks before Advent even begins. But in the case of Rend Collective I'll make an exception. Their Christmas album was initially released last year, but gets a re-release only a couple of months after their fourth album proper – As Family We Go. But by getting it out there now, their fresh arrangements of classic carols and Christmas songs will be accessible to worship leaders around the world – who should welcome this wonderful collection.
Recorded mostly in their trademark upbeat folk style, the majority of songs here will be familiar. Some are designed to get a Christmas party started – such as the brilliantly frenetic Ding Dong Merrily on High or their jaunty take on Joy to the World.
There are calmer, more worshipful moments as well, though. O Come All Ye Faithful is replete with beautiful harmonies and O Holy Night (a tough track to cover well) is packed with sleigh bells and other nice touches. Their version of Joyful, Joyful is mashed up with the refrain from O Come, O Come Emmanuel – and it works well.
The surprising feature at the heart of the album is two covers of contemporary secular songs that have been retold by Rend as Christmas anthems. And they pull it off perfectly. First, the cover of Shining Light by their fellow Northern Irish band Ash is a triumph. Already a brilliant pop song, Rend infuse it with a new lease of life via some rewritten lyrics about the birth of Jesus. A second surprising cover version comes in the form of the penultimate track on the album – Shakin' Stevens' 1985 classic Merry Christmas Everybody. Complete with banjo solo, the joy spills out on this version – the fun the band is having is obvious and infectious. It's a radio staple at Christmas time and popular wisdom says you can't top the original – but they've given it a good go and made it their own – with the last line being "From Rend Collective, Merry Christmas Everyone!"
The final track of the album uses the melody to Auld Lang Syne with different lyrics – entitled For All That You Have Done.
This would work well as the soundtrack of your Christmas party, in the run-up to a Carol service at church or indeed as the soundtrack to unwrapping presents with the family on the day itself. It's the perfect mix of seasonal spirit, without being cheesy or too close to a novelty Christmas record. There's been a gap since Sufjan Stevens stopped releasing Christmas EPs – this album will be able to fill it for many of us.
If you only buy one Christmas album this year – make sure it's this one. It's sure to be the best one out there...