A Christmas treat from sibling duo For King & Country

Gas South Arena hosts the Christian musicians performing songs from their 2020 album ‘A Drummer Boy Christmas’ and more.
For King & Country will play Gas South Arena in Duluth on Dec. 18.

Credit: Courtesy of For King & Country

Credit: Courtesy of For King & Country

For King & Country will play Gas South Arena in Duluth on Dec. 18.

Last year, the popular Christian sibling music duo For King & Country had to take a novel approach to their annual Christmas tour if they were to avoid skipping this annual tradition. They went to warm weather markets and played drive-in shows.

This year, the duo and their backing band are back playing more traditional venues for the holiday tour, but Luke Smallbone, who along with brother Joel makes up For King & Country, thinks music fans might not have seen the last of drive-in shows — and not because of any possible future lockdown.

“It’s funny, I actually venture to say there’s a good chance that years down the way that people may actually desire a show or two a year at a drive-in just as a whole because it’s a little unique,” he said. “It takes you back in time. It’s nostalgia, I think especially for a lot of the parents that are bringing their kids.” he said.

This year’s tour will mark a first opportunity for fans in many cities to see For King & Country perform songs from their 2020 holiday album, “A Drummer Boy Christmas” (which was re-released this fall in a deluxe edition), along with a selection of favorites from the duo’s three non-holiday albums.

“A Drummer Boy Christmas” is something of a follow-up to the duo’s version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” which was released in 2019 as a single. And while the pandemic created a year filled with disappointment and difficulty for the vast majority of music acts, the Christmas album was actually a project the Smallbone brothers had on the schedule for 2020 well before the first COVID-19 cases appeared.

“We didn’t know we would do it during the quarantine and the lockdown. But yeah, it was always planned,” Smallbone said.

“A Drummer Boy Christmas” was one of 2020′s best holiday offerings and an album that could appeal to both Christian and secular fans.

For King & Country will play Gas South Arena in Duluth on Dec. 18. Courtesy of Eric Brown

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

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Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

The For King & Country sound is built around epic melodies and a strong rhythmic presence, so it’s no surprise that this duo adds considerable heft to standards such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Silent Night,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Heavenly Hosts” (one of two original songs on the album), as majestic swaths of strings and synthetic sound, assertive rhythms and chorale-styled backing vocals send these hymns soaring. But it’s not just the ability to incorporate the King & Country sound into the music that makes “A Drummer Boy Christmas” stand out. The Smallbone brothers also reshape the arrangements of many of the familiar hymns, adding creative instrumental segments and inventive backing vocal parts to “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “Joy To The World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” to name a few songs that have truly transformative musical elements.

“A Drummer Boy Christmas” has been another success in a career that has seen the Smallbone brothers quickly ascend to the top tier of Christian music acts.

The Australian duo (who have since moved to Nashville and become U.S. citizens) made an initial impact with their 2012 debut album, “Crave,” which reached No. 4 on Billboard magazine’s Christian Albums chart. Then the 2014 follow-up, “Run Wild. Live Free. Love Strong.,” broke things wide open, topping the Christian Album chart and producing two No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart – “Shoulders” and “Fix My Eyes.” Things culminated with the album winning the Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. The duo’s contributions to the soundtrack of the 2016 movie “Priceless” only solidified their standing heading into the recording of their third album, 2018′s “Burn The Ships,” which quickly became another hit for the duo, giving For King & Country chart-topping singles in “Joy,” “Amen” and “God Only Knows” and winning two Grammys, including Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.

Next year figures to be another big year for the Smallbone Brothers. The duo’s fourth studio album, “What Are We Waiting For?,” is due for release on March 11. The lead single, “Relate,” has already gone No. 1 on “Billboard” magazine’s Christian Airplay singles chart.

The success For King & Country has enjoyed has been heartening, Smallbone said, particularly with “Burn The Ships.” That highly personal album included songs that dealt with some trying times for Luke Smallbone, including his wife’s battle with prescription drug addiction and a major scare for the couple’s young son, Leo, who had to go through reconstructive skull surgery.

“I think the encouraging thing is ‘Burn The Ships, it’s not a very, there’s not a lot of sugar coating going on there. Even our song ‘Joy’ is actually talking about the difficultness of trying to choose joy in these days,” Smallbone said. “It’s a real honor to be able to (write) music that can impact another (person). I think that’s the way we feel is grateful that this music has been accepted. But I think this album (”Burn The Ships”) goes out to all of the people who are hurting in ways that a lot of times that aren’t seen. I think that’s what this album really represents.”


For King & Country

7 p.m. Dec. 18. $24-$154. Gas South Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, gassouthdistrict.com.