Christmas Reviews

by: 

C.W. Ross & Kathryn E. Darden
Nov 27, 2008

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The Christmas Collection - Amy Grant

If you like Christmas songs that are jazzed up with weird slow/fast tempo, key changes, odd medleys woven in, then "Jingle Bells," the first song on Amy Grant's The Christmas Collection is for you. It was not for me, however, and I found it just flat out annoying, thinking if this was a foretaste of the rest of the album, I was in for a BIG disappointment. Fortunately, the next song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" was melodic with lovely orchestration, causing me to sigh with relief. I really liked "I Need a Silent Night" which was a new song for me. Amy's voice lent itself well to this pretty tune, but I was even happier with the next song, "Winter Wonderland," which was such a nice, catchy sing-along song... and I DO like to sing along!

"Baby, It's Christmas," was another new song, and I liked it's slow, waltzing, tempo as well as Amy's elegant vocals. It was followed by by "Sleigh Ride," which is a nice, up-tempo song, with pretty vocals and instrumentation. While "Count Your Blessings" is not not a traditional Christmas song, it fit in beautifully on a Christmas project, and I especially like this lovely, soothing rendition and the orchestra's accompaniment made this a rich and lush addition.

"Hark the Herald" and "Silent Night" couldn't have been prettier, leading into an Amy Grant classic, "Breath of Heaven" which was almost haunting with its ethereal vocals and piano accompaniment. And I LOVED "Joy to the World/For Unto Us a Child Is Born" with its richly orchestrated introduction, followed by a choir. I don't know if Amy even sang on it, but it was beautiful, nonetheless. "Grown Up Christmas List" another Amy Christmas classic, was gorgeous, slow and melodic, in contrast to the rockabilly "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree." The remaining songs, "Tennessee Christmas," "A Christmas to Remember," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "A Mighty Fortress/Angels We Have Heard on High," and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" round the project in a delightfully festive fashion. I especially liked the "Mighty Fortress" intro to "Angels." The Christmas Collection features 18 songs, and I enjoyed 17 of them, so this is a project I highly recommend. -KED

O Holy Night: A Live Christmas Celebration - David Phelps

This release was recorded live on David's farm located in southern Tennessee. So you get the added experience of both fans reaction and interaction on this release. The event was also captured for a DVD.

Before setting out on a solo career Phelps gained acclaim during his eight years spent with the Gaither Vocal Band. With over a three octave range and ability to hold high notes for extended periods of time Phelps has built his reputation as a great singer.

'O Holy Night: A Live Christmas Celebration' is a jammed packed 15 tracks that last for just under 1 full hour. While the songs are Christmas classics Phelps makes them come alive and adds modern elements through the passion found in his vocals. The songs also feature rich choir background vocals that add to that rich feeling.

My favorite tracks were the more upbeat tempo type of songs like, "Hallelujah," "If Everyone Believed," along with "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," that features a very interesting arrangement that even though I've heard this song covered many different times I've never heard it done like this before with its rich vocal harmonies.

I think that this release will appeal mostly to an adult audience with its traditional sounding songs.-CWR

The Heart of Christmas - Michael & Carrie Hodge (formerly Two Hearts) with The Prague Symphony

Carrie's distinctive vocals are lovely on this uptempo yet very traditional Christmas collection which kicks off with "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Marcos Witt lends his vocals to one of my favorite versions of "Mary Did You Know." "O Come all Ye Faithful" is one of the slower songs on the project, richly orchestrated, solemn, and beautiful. Lakewood Children's choir with Carrie's vocals soaring over is a nice effect, building to a strong and moving last verse.

I have loved "Merry Christmas With Love" since I first heard Sandy Patti sing it years ago, but Carrie's version is a great rendition. My favorite song on the project is "O Come O Come Emmanuel/What Child Is This?" for its beautiful orchestration and Carrie's evocative vocals. The project features a new song "He Is Emmanuel." Carrie has an infectious, delightful laugh, which is featured on a couple of tunes where it truly fits, but I prefer my Christmas carols sans chatter and laughter. What can I say? I'm a purist! -KED

Joy To The World - Faith Hill

The 5-time Grammy Award winning country music star Faith Hill's, 'Joy To The World Christmas' release is finally out. The project was 2 years in the making and features a wide range of players.

Joining Faith on this release are, The Nashville Orchestra, the London-based choirs Metro Voices and The London Oratory School Boys Choir, Grammy Award winner David Campbell (Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Beyonce) provides a newly composed full orchestration on several of the songs giving them a big band sound.

It was those songs that appealed to me the most, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Little Drummer Boy," "Winter Wonderland" and "Holly Jolly Christmas" has that upbeat big band feel not often heard anymore-in recordings. The songs are filled with expert use of both muted and left to blast out horn parts.

Besides the Christmas classics you'll also find the original song, "A Baby Changes Everything," that was written by Nashville songwriters Tim Nichols, Craig Wiseman and K.K. Wiseman.

As with anything Faith Hill puts her musical stamp on you get her crisp, clean vocals along with songs that feature stellar arrangements.

'Joy To The World' is a nice Christmas release that should appeal to anyone who likes a classic Christmas sound, with element of big bands of the past sounds. -CWR

It's Christmas - Mandisa

Mandisa brings her first full-length Christmas album "It's Christmas, "produced by Brown Bannister (Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jeremy Camp). "It's Christmas" strikes a nice balance between traditional Christmas carols and newer songs, and features special appearances by Michael W. Smith and Matthew West. A versatile project, Mandisa's strong vocals and a peppy group of background vocalists gave each song a lightly different sounds from an almost a 60's sound from the first track on "What Christmas Means to Me" to a nice latin feel to "Feliz Navidad" and a lush, traditional versions of "The Bell Medley" and "Silent Night." My favorite song was "Christmas Day" with Michael W. Smith" -- just beautiful and already a Christmas classic! -KED

Home For Christmas - BarlowGirl

BarlowGirl is sisters, Rebecca, Alyssa and Lauren Barlow. The normal rockers shift it into another gear on this, their first, Christmas release. They've almost wanted to do a Christmas style of release and the parts finally fell into place for it to happen this year.

On 'Home For Christmas' you'll find the young ladies doing their version of 10 of their favorite Christmas songs along with one new song written by them titled, "Hallelujah (Light Has Come)."

The songs found on this release are done with rich full orchestral arrangements filled with the sister's signature stellar vocals harmonies. The release was produced by the group's long-time friend Otto Price (GRITS, dcTalk) and arranged by both Price and BarlowGirl.

The first several tracks on the CD have a very traditional sound then things take a bit of a change with, "O Little Town of Bethlehem." That song has a bit of a pop flavor found on it. "What Child is This?" that features Rebecca Barlow's debut on lead vocals then goes in a jazz direction with its arrangement.

One of my favorite tracks on the CD was the groups horn filled version of the classic song "Go, Tell It On The Mountain" that was filled with an upbeat tempo.

While some of the songs might be to traditional sounding for the groups usual younger fans I think that it will appeal to the more adult members of the family. -CWR

O Holy Night - Sara Groves

The angelic strains of "Star of Wonder" which introduce this project are just too short, way too short! I want to hear the full song performed like the short intro! While many people like to hear small children on their Christmas CD. I don't, and I didn't enjoy it on "It's True." I buy a CD for the music. Once "It's True" started, I really enjoyed this new addition to Christmas music, well, except when the baby-talk resumed at the end. I love Sara's version of "It came upon a Midnight Clear." I don't usually enjoy new, contemporary treatments, but this one is so lyrical and harmonious, I was captivated by it. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is another lovely treatment of an old favorite, featuring many traditional elements with unexpected melodic and lyrical additions. - KED


Christmas This Year' EP - Callann Lane

The young fresh face pop singer Callann Lane (formerly known as Cali) has released her sophomore effort, a holiday project titled, 'Christmas This Year'.

'Christmas This Year' was originally recorded and released in 2007 by non-profit Gifts in Kind, with 25,000 copies sold as an exclusive CD release through 1400 Ronald McDonald Houses, 125 children's hospitals and military bases nationwide. This year, the album will be available to everyone through a new agreement with iTunes.com.

I've been listening to a lot of Christmas releases lately and most of them have been pretty traditional sounding but this is one that definitely took a different path. This release is the one that the kids and younger adults will want to put in the stereo this Christmas Season.

The six songs found on this EP are a collection of well known Christmas classics like, "Let It Snow" that's filled with club beats, and techno sounds set against a up dance tempo. And the more modern Christmas classic "Carol Of The Bell" a very lively piano arranged song that's also filled with club beats.

"Christmas This Year (Emma's Song)," "Harmony," and "Glorious Things" were the most traditional sounding songs found on the EP with their piano lead, more melodic feel, that still have some funky drum beats found in them.

Probably the most unexpected song found on the release is a cover of the Madonna hit single, "Holiday."

I liked the fresh very upbeat approach that Callann took on 'Christmas This Year'. The EP is a quick hitter though with its 6-tracks lasting for only 19 minutes.

The 'Christmas This Year' EP is a release to stuff into the kid's Christmas stockings.-CWR

Tennessee Christmas: A Holiday Collection - Point of Grace

Point of Grace has been a mainstay in the contemporary Christian music scene for over 17 years now, selling millions of albums, having won several Dove Awards and have had 26 number-1 singles, to name just a few of their accolades.

Now comes their, Tennessee Christmas: A Holiday Collection release. For regular listeners of the group most of what's found on this CD will sound familiar because it's a compilation of songs taken from Point of Grace's previous Christmas releases, A Christmas Story (1999) and Winter Wonderland (2005) along with a new version of the classic song, "Tennessee Christmas."

So if you already own the previously mentioned releases from the group you won't find much new on, Tennessee Christmas: A Holiday Collection to make it worth purchasing. But for those of you who don't already own their previous Christmas releases you're in for a musical treat. You'll get songs filled with the group's signature tight vocal harmonies.

While a few of the songs are more upbeat with a pop tempo for the most part the songs have a very traditional feel to them. They're filled with rich strings and horn sounds with big orchestral sounding arrangements. At times it felt like I was listening to the great girl group that helped many a men get through WWII, The Andrews Sisters.

I think that due to the style of music found on this release it will probably be enjoyed most by an adult ear more then a teenagers. It would though make a nice gift for a teenager to buy for their parents or grandparents as a Christmas present.-CWR


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