In a tradition that dates back to the early 90’s, we at Christian Activities try to review (briefly) every Christmas project we can get our hands on to give our readers a little idea of what kind of Christmas music is out there during each holiday season. While we stick pretty closely to the gospel/CCM projects, we also review a few secular projects if they come our way. We hope by providing you with a short summary of each project, you will feel emboldened to try something new as you select your Christmas music this year.
Christmas with Yolanda Adams
This is a nice, relatively mellow, r&b project that makes for very pleasant holiday listening. Leading off with two nicely done traditional carols, the third song, “Born This Day,” was a rousing carol. Stand out: “The Christmas Song.” If you like your music with an urban edge, never fear. Most of the songs, like “The First Noel” and “Carol of the Bells,” come packing some groove.
Glad: Voices of Christmas
Proving that you really don’t need instruments to make a Christmas album resonate, the Glad guys accompany themselves on every song with intricate background vocals. If you like acapella music, you will love this project. If you can only take so much of the acapella sound, this is still a very palatable project and might surprise you. No one song stuck out on this CD after several listens; instead the project flowed smoothly from one acapella song into another, with a homogenous effect. For me, this is a “party mix” project, providing a wonderfully unique sound when mixed in with other more traditionally orchestrated carols.
A Christmas Reunion-
The majority of these songs have appeared on other CCM projects in recent years, so this cd has a very familiar feel to it. I am betting this cd was designed more for radio airplay and less for home enjoyment. Artists like Michael W. Smith, Kathy Troccoli, Rich Mullins, Gary Chapman, Bryan Duncan and more each have a song on the project. Standout was “2000 Decembers Ago” by Joy Williams, and I never get tired of hearing Rich’s “You Gotta Get Up” or Kathy and Andy singing “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
The project is finished off with four instrumental songs from Ambience Christmas. The addition of these songs and a number by Fred Hammond & RFC made me question the purpose of the project. If it was to give radio stations a handy presentation of various Christmas songs, it succeeded. However, while Ambience Christmas is one of my favorite projects of Christmas past, the addition of the instrumentals as well as the Fred Hammond “He Is the Reason” were mildly distracting for home enjoyment. The Ambience and Hammond songs are all definitely worthy of airplay and home enjoyment, but they don’t work on this project and gave it a contrived feel. Perhaps the Ambience songs would have worked interspersed between the vocal numbers, but clumping them with the Essence instrumental song at the end made the project feel like I was listening to TWO distinctly different projects with Fred Hammond thrown in the middle for good measure.
Sometimes I think whoever picks the songs for these compilations should remember that old adage from those deep thinkers on Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn’t belong…”
One Silent Night – A collection of old favorites and new favorites, performed predominantly in contemporary fashion with traditional overtones as interpreted by several top female artists including Leigh Nash, Amy Grant, and Nicole Mullin. The project begins with a few strains of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” which leads straight into Cindy Morgan’s song, “Joy.” Most of the songs are contemporary with a couple of old favorites in the mix for good measure and most of the songs are very nice. Standout: Rachel Lampa on “I Choose You.” One of my favorite projects from 2000.
Sanders Family Christmas: Smoke on the Mountain Part II- The first song, “Christmas Time’s a Comin’”, introduces the Sanders Family and their country stylings. Plenty of songs for kids like “Cactus Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bells.” My personal favorite is the lovely rendition of “I Wonder As I Wander.” If you enjoy Smoke on the Mountain, you will like this offering!
Avalon Joy – Appropriately beginning with a new version of “Joy to the World,” this is an uptempo collection of old favorites performed in contemporary vein and new songs performed with traditional licks. Standouts: “Born on Christmas Day” and “Light a Candle.” Another noteworthy song is the oddly pensive “Good News.”
Child of Promise – Some of the strongest voices in Christian music bring this musical to life. This is definitely not traditional caroling fare, but if you enjoy listening to Broadway soundtracks, this might be up your alley. I found it choppy listening in places, with abrupt endings, and lacking in segue. I am sure seen on stage none of these problems would be evident, but the CD lacks whatever visuals would tie the music together. Standouts: Michael Crawford as Zacharias, Donna Summer as Elizabeth and Russ Taff as the angel Gabriel.
Essential Energy Christmas- Hurtling through the speakers with a driving guitar intro to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” Essential Energy is NOT your grandmother’s Christmas CD! I’m an old-fashioned girl. I like traditional carols, but I enjoyed this one! My personal favorite: “Little Drummer Boy.” Only complaint — the project is too short!
Won by One:Ring Those Christmas Belle – This project kicks off with a beautiful rendition of “Carol of the Bells” before moving into the title song and features totally familiar, traditional Christmas songs, a nice change from the recent move to stick a bunch of new, contemporary sings on Christmas projects. Besides the first song, other standouts are: “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (with harpsichord!) and “Home for the Holidays.”
America’s 25 Christmas Songs for Kids–”Jingle Bells,” “We Three Kings,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Frosty the Snowman”… this project delivers exactly what it promises, 25 of the best-loved Christmas carols performed “kids style” – by kids for kids.
Acoustic Christmas –
“Angels We Have Heard on High” played to the accompanyment of an acoustic guitar kicks things off in a pleasant vein which sets the course for the rest of the project. This is a pleasant project for pleasant moments when you want the music down low and mellow. Pleasant Christmas carols, pleasant voices.“We Three Kings” was my personal favorite. Also worthy of note was the plaintive rendition of “O Christmas Tree.” One of the nicest things about the project is it includes 25 great Christmas songs, so you get a lot of great background music with this one.
David Phelps: Joy, Joy – David has a versatile voice and it lends itself well to Christmas Carols. “O Holy Night” provides an especially nice showcase for his vocal prowess. A nice mix of traditional and contemporary sounds.
Newsong: Sheltering Tree- Although this is not a Christmas project, the bonus track on this album is “Christmas Shoes.” Grab a hanky before you listen; this is a song which tells the story of a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. He wants to save his money to buy her a new pair of Christmas shoes, so that she will have them when she dies and meets Jesus. It’s Christmas eve, the shoes are just her size, and he is short of cash. Soulfully sung, sure to bring a tear, reminds us Christmas is about sacrifice and love.
Florida Boys: Heaven’s Child- Kicking off with a very Jubilant “Joy to the World” this is another compilation of old favorites. Nice instrumentation, nice vocals throughout, mixing traditional strains with a little Southern Gospel, with some big band and crooning thrown in — one of my favorite Christmas projects of 2000 although I could have done without the soliloquy on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Women of Faith Christmas– Another pleasant, mellow project that would be nice background music for any occasion, especially a women’s group or meeting, as all the songs are done by the Women of Faith Worship Team women’s chorus (including the likes of Lisa Bevill, among other talented ladies). It would be hard to pick a favorite song, but I’ll go with the last number, “One Small Child/More Precious than Silver.”
Vicki Yoh’e: Christmas Presence– With her powerful vocals and almost urban approach to singing Vicki Yoh’e can belt out a carol like nobody’s business. The soft, traditional melodies provided by the orchestra provide a nice counterpart to the vocals. With the ubiquitous mix of old and new songs (such as the title cut), Vicki’s soulful vocals on songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” are the standouts on this project.
Peace: A Celtic Christmas, Sheila Walsh – I saved this for my last project to review. I have always enjoyed Sheila’s voice, and while I enjoy Christmas music more than all other forms, listening to so much back to back can be a little much, so I saved the one I anticipated the most for last as my reward! Sheila’s lilting voice is the perfect accompaniment to the songs she selected, arranged with a Celtic touch. About half the CD is comprised of new songs including the first cut, “A Child Has Come to Us,” “Light of the World” (both of which were penned in part by Sheila) with the other half traditional favorites. Standouts: “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and “Gloria” (written by artist Michelle Tumes).
These Are Special Times by Celine Dion
Epic Records, BK-69523
Reviewed by John Wilson
It was a struggle to find a project worthy to review during this Christmas season of 2000. There were new instrumentals with a plethora of music for Christmas. There was the acappella Christmas music from Glad, the new Christmas musical from Michael and Stormie Omartian, the project done by the female recording artists on the Word label, the Christmas project by Avalon, and other Christmas music. Here’s my thinking, Christmas, the birth of Jesus, can this be hard to do? Well, am I naive, been on a desert island with Gilligan, or what?
The project I chose to do is one by Celine Dion, on the Epic label (Sparrow is a part of this company, I think) entitled “These are Special Times”. Celine Dion has been on the pop scene for several years and has been such a success, and she probably has one of the greatest singing voices God ever granted a person to have, and she can sing. Unfortunately, she can’t pick or have picked for her “real” Christmas music for this project. In our society, there is a movement to take Jesus out of Christmas, and replace Him with an abundance of other things, besides celebrating the birth of Jesus in Bethleham. If you know Jesus as your personal Savior, you know what I mean.
On this project, Dion tries of cover all of the Christmas bases, the secular and the spiritual, and does a poor job with both of these areas. This is not to say that you won’t be moved by “O, Holy Night”, “Ave Maria”, and “Adeste Fideles” (O, Come All Ye Faithful”) because you will, but the other side of the coin is that the primary and only emphasis for me during Christmas is the birth of Jesus, and the good news that that means to us as His followers.
Not only does Dion try to cover the bases, but she has some basically flawed theology mixed in also. In a duet with R. Kelly and written by him, Dion and Kelly try to jump on the “Angel bandwagon”, with the song, “I’m your Angel”. Don’t be fooled, this is really not a Christmas song, because it has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, but is really a love song in disguise. Musically, it is a beautiful song, as is the duet with Andrea Bocelli entitled “The Prayer”. Beautiful music, but not a Christmas song.
Songs on this project which deal with the birth of Christ are wonderful, but the others should be on another CD.
John’s Rating (* to *****)……………………….*
Have a Christmas project for 2000 we haven’t reviewed? Send it to:
Christian Activities Magazine
P.O. Box 210182
Nashville, TN 37221-0182
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