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Music review: Campfire Christmas,Vol.1 by Rend Collective

Music review: Campfire Christmas,Vol.1 by Rend Collective

Music review: Campfire Christmas,Vol.1 by Rend Collective

2 December 2017

Rend Collective offers unblemished musicianship - but where are the campfire acoustics?

Reviewed by Mal Davies

I think what ruined it for me was the tubular bells and “Barbara Ann”. Because when you get to ... oh, hang on, I might be getting ahead of myself. 

For those unfamiliar with Rend Collective, they’re basically the Christian version of the Celtic-sounding folk-rock band Mumford & Sons. (My apologies: Gen Y, they’re the more Christian version of Mumford & Sons.)

Born at the Bangor Elim Church in Northern Ireland, the band (formerly known as Rend Collective Experiment) released their first album in 2010 and have gone on to become one of the Christian contemporary music scene’s most popular acts, possibly best known for their rollicking praise song Build Your Kingdom Here.

In 2013, they released their first live album, Campfire, and in 2016 Campfire II: Simplicity. In between, they released Campfire Christmas Vol.1 in 2014. Each of the Campfire albums is – supposedly – recorded live, around a campfire, using acoustic instruments.

The short opening track is a slow, thoughtful excerpt of We Wish You A Merry Christmas and then the album launches into the usual, joyous, Rend Collective sound as they strike up with Hark The Herald Angels Sing. Eighteen seconds in and we get ... tubular bells.

Yes, tubular bells. You’ve seen them in an orchestra percussion section or possibly even in the Melbourne Staff Band percussion section: a tall rack of metal pipes that you strike with a mallet to make the classic doorbell sound in a range of pitches. A very fine percussion instrument – but have you ever seen one played at a campfire?

As I continued to listen to the album I realised that the sound was high-quality and the musicianship unblemished. And this is where Barbara Ann comes into it. Some of you will be familiar with The Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann, which includes the sounds of fans talking, clapping, singing and cheering in the background. It was on their Beach Boys’ Party album and became a hit single around the world. A few years later, Marvin Gaye released the classic single What’s Going On, again with background chatter included.

So ... if I listen to a bunch of Christmas songs recorded live around a campfire, I expect to hear some laughing, some chatter, the occasional guitar string twang, the occasional missed entry or bum note, maybe even some ad-libbing musically. But instead, I get a pristine studio album with, I’m guessing, no campfire but containing tubular bells.

Is it a good album? Yeah, it’s pretty good. Fans of Rend Collective will like it; fans of Christmas will like it; those looking for some different versions of Christmas carols will like it. To be honest, I didn’t mind it either.

Is it a live album recorded around a campfire as it claims to be? No. Maybe I’m just frustrated by false advertising, or maybe I’m frustrated by the fact that I think Rend Collective could make an excellent live Christmas recording because of their folk roots and acoustic musicianship. But this isn’t it.

Campfire Christmas, Vol.1 is on iTunes and is available at Koorong now.


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