Paul Cardall is the...
Norman Rockwell of Christmas music!
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
Christmas…the time of the year when family and friends return home. Together we set aside our differences as we gather around the family dining table. The table has seen better days, but on this day, it is adorned with the finer things. The silver is shined and is set around the plates made of fine china. The crystal goblets sparkle from the warm glow of the candles and the linen is as white as the Christmas snow.
Father stands at the head of the table, dressed in his Sunday best. Mother walks in with an elegant platter filled with a modest turkey that is for dinner. The smell is heaven on earth as your mouth begins to water; eager to taste the scrumptious meal placed before you. This is Christmas.
Twentieth century artist Norman Rockwell captured this scene in one of his most iconic paintings called “Freedom From Want,” also known as “The Thanksgiving Picture” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Norman Rockwell knew a thing or two about capturing genuine American culture. Through his paintings we are able to appreciate what America once was during its wholesome and innocent years.
It is during the Christmas season that we often reminisce of the days gone by. Days that Mr. Rockwell captured in each and every one of his paintings. Our souls yearn for those simple and honest times, while our hearts search. If only we could return to that scene so elegantly captured and painted by Mr. Norman Rockwell.
If a picture can paint a thousand words, then music can voice them. Classic pianist Paul Cardall is able to deliver the scene much like Norman Rockwell’s painting in his album called Christmas. Paul Cardall is like the Norman Rockwell of Christmas music.
“When I heard that... that is the kindest, most interesting comment; because you nailed what we tried to create…” replies Paul Cardall. “’Cause Norman Rockwell, he is the definitive artist of family and country and God and just joy. That is the emotion; we definitely wanted to embody in this album. To restore that confidence in Christmas.”
Paul’s new album encompasses the elegance of Christmas within thirteen songs. This project combines the vast artistry of polished instrumentals with time-honored Christmas carols. Paul, with the help of producer Jim Daneker (Michael W. Smith’s longtime musical director), creates the arrangements for each of the songs.
“This is the first time in twenty years that I decided to work with a producer and Jim Daneker… he’s the one who helped me execute my vision of what I want to do.” shares Paul. “...and all these different elements, he helped me to take what was in my mind, and in the piano and really just build on it; to where it’s not over done, but it’s done in a way that it fills the air.”
From the first note of the opening song, Paul captures you and sends you on a journey filled with finely detailed images through his music.
“I feel more like I’m an architect. The producer is the general contractor to execute my vision. Then we have all these different musicians, so talented; come in and decorate the home with the way we envisioned doing it.” tells Paul. “So it’s like we’re building this warm, inviting, comfortable home for Christmas that people we hope will want to come in and just feel so comfortable.”
Most Christmas albums contain the same basic collection of time-honored Christmas carols. Carols that have been so excessively recorded that they have lost their message. They also lose their effect, as our brains tend to avoid or ignore these songs. Nevertheless, Paul Cardall is able to renew their conventional messages within his finely calibrated music.
“When you surround yourself with people that are much more talented and smarter, it’s amazing what happens.” shares Cardall. “And I’ve had just a wonderful group of people that I surround myself with that lead and guide me. I learned that principle a long time ago from Sting, when he transitioned from being with the Police and he wanted to do jazz. He didn’t know jazz; he just surrounded himself with the guys who knew jazz. I’ve always believed that you have to surround yourself with people much more gifted and talented than you and they bring the best out of you.”
This project opens with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” A song that introduces the listener to the extensive artistry found throughout this project. The song opens in a soft and gentle melody that escalates to a very potent and powerful mentality that will fill your soul.
Majority of the album is comprised of piano-centered instrumental pieces. Nonetheless, Paul collaborates with three talented vocalists in three of the songs. The first vocal collaboration is found in his version of “In The Bleak Midwinter.” Contemporary Christian singer and songwriter, Audrey Assad, lends her vocals to create a striking rendition of this classic hymn.
Grammy Award winner CeCe Winans adds her vocals to “O Holy Night.” Paul’s piano blends the classic song with CeCe’s modern vocals to create an emotional piece.
Australian Broadway star Patrice Topoki, lends her vocals to one of two new songs written by Paul called “Son of God.” This song captures the whole story of Christmas, which is enhanced with the angelic vocals provided by Patrice.
Paul deviates a bit on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” His added deviation gives this classic song a bit of nobility as it reminds us of our ancestry. It is the subtle deviations found within each song, that brings this project to the forefront of Christmas albums.
Very few people know of the classic carol called “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth.” Paul introduces his audiences to one of his favorite carols with his ethereal performance. This beautiful German carol brings a touch of Christmas magic into this project.
In listening to this album, you will subconsciously find yourself feeling all the emotions that the Christmas season can bring. Your heart will soar to new levels of power and then drop to the humble and delicate beginnings.
Paul brings a sense of nostalgia into this project with his version of “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” The song opens with a few notes that vibrate as though they were played on an old record player.
“One of the traditions always is that you put on a record of Burl Ives or Bing Crosby or Johnny Mathis; and you always get that old sound. That old AM radio…” shares Paul. “You get that sound and it’s so incredible. It’s so nostalgic and not some thing Millennials would recognize. I think that an older audience would really appreciate that song.”
The second song that Paul wrote, for this project, is a song called “Christmas Past.”
“’Christmas Past’ is an original piece that I wrote.” tells Paul. “It’s a painful piece of music and I wanted a painful piece of music on there because there are a lot of people that grieve during the holidays. There is so much nostalgia, I think of Christmas Vacation where Chevy Chase is up in the attic and he starts crying because he’s watching all these home movies. Everyone’s left him to go shopping and he’s up there wearing woman’s clothing and trying to stay warm and watching these movies and there is that longing for the past. I think of Dickens and the ghost of Christmas past...so that’s a very poignant piece for me, that I’m hoping strikes emotion in people of the depth of relationships and hopefully forge a spirit of gratitude for the present. The past can be painful.”
The exquisite song truly does bring forth emotions, so much so that we have added it to our list of Top Songs of 2018. This song also earned a nomination in the 24th Annual Spirit Award’s Song of The Year and Spirit of Christmas categories.
For Paul Cardall, the past has been a journey of hardship and joy. Paul was born with a congenital heart defect. Through his life, he has undergone numerous surgeries to prolong his life.
While in his thirties, he spent three-hundred and eighty-five days on the donor list waiting for a heart donor. Finally, he received a heart from a very athletic young man.
“Having been born with only a half a heart, I wasn’t supposed to live. It was interesting, because I survived and the doctors told my parents ’he’s not going to live very long. He’s got only half a heart.’” shares Paul. “So I was raised not being told—you might not grow up, but there’s miracles and you’re going to survive and everything’s going to be wonderful. I continued to having problems all they way up until I was thirty-six and got transplanted with a new donor heart; which was a miracle! I thank God everyday for the chance to have new life. It’s interesting, because congenital heart disease has helped me go to a place emotionally and mentally where I think I am able to pull deep human emotion out and interpret that through music.”
The story of his donor’s life has been shared with Paul.
“I just try to live my life the best I can, to bring in a way to restore his [donor’s] life and his memory and not do anything to abuse the privilege of having a piece of him in me.” graciously shares Paul.
Paul developed his musical talents after a childhood friend’s death. His friend was a music enthusiast who loved the piano, and one day Cardall sat down at his parent’s piano to studying the instrument. Over the course of time, he was able to relieve the pain over the loss of his good friend through music.
Paul draws on his immense joy for living and brings it into his version of “Joy To The World.” This classic carol begins with a cathedral like mentality that transforms into a more contemporary disposition. It is unique how he blends the classic with the contemporary.
“These are ones that I, they just came to me. I could’ve gone the ‘Jingle Bells’ route. I could’ve gone ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ and all that stuff.” replies Paul about the songs he chose for this project. “All I wanted to do was... I wanted to take classics and make them full of life in a very spiritual, joyful way that makes us appreciate internally...even though we might not think that’s what’s happening...appreciate internally the beauty of the season. More and more people this time of the year are serving people or helping people. It’s a fact, serving other people is what brings you the most joy and happiness. So I try to get songs that coincide with the one that taught service is key to true joy. That is why most of the songs are centered on the heart of Christmas.’
Other songs on this extraordinary album include “Once In Royal David’s City” and “Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” Nonetheless, it is Paul’s rendition of the old classic carol “Away In The Manger” that is perhaps the best version we have heard so far.
“My wife is Catholic and there’s a melody that they sing and there’s a melody that’s different, that I sing at my church and it’s like...I’m gonna merge the two. Just like we did with our marriage.” shares Paul about ‘Away In The Manger.’
“Away In The Manger” is one of those songs that is so overly recorded that it has lost all meaning. Nonetheless, I have not found a version that can paint the picture that the lyrics speak. Paul’s version is performed in a gentle and honest melody that has a hint of a lullaby within it.
As we come to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the song “Silent Night,” it is befitting that Paul closes out this musical experience with this song. Listen closely as the song begins with a fresh breath of winter air. Paul’s soft touch piano enhances the gentleness of the song. Hidden among the instrumentals you will hear a faint Arabian drum beat.
“I want anyone who listens to my music to… because what my music does is it taps into emotions we may not always want to experience and emotions we want to experience.” humbly shares Paul. “In that moment I want that divine supreme power, whatever that is for people. I want people to receive any information that they need. What I would say—what God needs to tell them. What they feel like God wants them to know, because I can’t say this is for this person and this is for that person. Everybody interprets music differently. Ultimately, I want people to recognize how beautiful life is and worth living and we are in control of creating beautiful memories for our self and those we love. In essence I want people to tap into that divine power that will give them strength and music helps access powers beyond our selves.”
The pictures that this album has painted for me are endless. Each time I listen, I find myself entranced within its beautiful artistry. Paul Cardall has such a unique way of capturing the essence of the song and brings it forward for all to experience.
If Norman Rockwell’s paintings could have music within them,
this would be that music…
(This article was printed in the November / December 2018 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
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