While Christmas is a time of joy, family and the celebration of a royal birth, it’s undeniably a time for music. Whether your Christmas spirit has you thirsting for romping, bell-ringing fun or emotional, heart-tugging meditation, there’s an abundance of music to choose from to make your holiday a Ho! Ho! Ho! happy one.
Whether it’s country superstars such as Vince Gill, Sawyer Brown, Trisha Yearwood, Alan Jackson or Martina McBride crooning out a brew of both old-time Christmas favorites and brand new holiday stories set to music, or extraordinary artist collaboration projects, there’s an exciting list of options from which to choose for either yourself or for the perfect Christmas gift.
Let’s take a brief stroll (or scroll, that is) through some of the best of the best from Christmas past, Christmas present and sure-to-be Christmas favorites for the future.
A Breath Of Heaven
Vince Gill — Gill’s Breath Of Heaven, a Christmas collection with Patrick Williams and his Orchestra, marks the country award-winner’s sophomore holiday project. His first, Let There Be Peace On Earth which features his daughter Jenny providing vocals on the title track, has been a holiday favorite since its release a few years back. Breath Of Heaven, produced by Michael Omartian and ace music-man Tony Brown, relies primarily on the classics like the zippity kick-off number “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells,” “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” and emotion-throbbing versions of “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Don’t, however, imagine these traditional gems as you’ve heard them in Christmases past. Along with a truly phenomenal orchestra and angelic contributing vocalists, Gill adds his own vocal magic and progressiveness — unfolding a performance that’s nothing less than brilliant. Two new compositions, however, shine unyieldingly on this perfect holiday spirit package. Unsurprisingly, Gill delivers them with such a personal touch that it’s hard to imagine they’re not already classics. Both the Al Bryan and Lawrence Stock-written “A Cradle In Bethlehem” and “Breath Of Heaven,” penned by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton, open a spiritual and skin-tingling door for Gill to shine through vocally, like you’ve never heard before.
Martina McBride — Joining the ranks of artists releasing Christmas albums this year is Martina McBride, whose White Christmas marks her first foray into holiday recording. White Christmas is a very traditional-sounding album, from the song selection to the arrangements and orchestration. There aren’t any vocal surprises, either; Martina sings these songs in as classic a style as Perry Como. All in all, White Christmas is as classically beautiful and nostalgic as the warm and fuzzy holiday images conjured up by songs like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and of course, what better song may Christmas dreams be made of than the title track, “White Christmas?” The only disappointing thing about this album might be the very thing that makes it good; that is, the classic holiday sound that will keep this record playing in the background at countless holiday dinners and department stores also lacks an edge that would lift it above the crowd of other seasonal releases. McBride possesses one of the strongest female voices in contemporary country music, and her Christmas album is missing some of the vocal power and emotion that she’s brought to songs like “Broken Wing” and “Independence Day.” Overall, however, White Christmas is still a nice album to have in your holiday collection. Favorite tracks: “O Holy Night,” “What Child is This.”
Christmas with Tammy Wynette
Tammy Wynette — Producer Billy Sherrill never found a better instrument to work with than Tammy Wynette’s pained voice. The cliché is true; she did have a tear in her voice. Wynette and Sherrill recorded this holiday collection — The First Lady of Country Music’s sole Christmas album — at the peak of their powers in 1970. Available for the first time in over a decade, it is a classic of the genre. The 10-track Christmas With Tammy Wynette mixes traditional carols with more recent Yuletide favorites. The songs range from the cheerful “Joy To The World” to the yearnful “Blue Christmas.” The $9.97 low-budget list price answers for the bareboned packaging and the CD’s short length (clocking in at 26 minutes, standard for the day). But in a year full of Tammy Wynette enshrining, this Christmas album from 28 years ago is as much a fitting tribute to her memory this holiday season as anything.
Hallelujah He Is Born
Sawyer Brown — This extraordinary treasure chest of music marks Sawyer Brown’s very first Christmas release ever. Boy, was it worth the wait. All brand new original songs, penned by the Sawyer Brown boys, with the exception of two hand-picked classics (“Little Drummer Boy” & “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”) are featured here. All spiritual with a focus on what Christmas is truly about — the birth of Jesus Christ — this Curb Records release is priceless with a harmony/heaven combination.
The Sweetest Gift
Trisha Yearwood — Phenomenal vocalist Trisha Yearwood presented us with the sweetest gift ever in 1994 when she released The Sweetest Gift. Dripping with both spiritual emotion and holiday romp, this package is one of my absolute favorites. Seldom heard tunes like “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” “It Wasn’t His Child” and “Take a Walk Through Bethlehem” flow beautifully with such Christmas chestnuts as “Away In A Manger,” “There’s A New Kid In Town” and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).” You’re too much Trisha!
Let There Be Peace On Earth
Vince Gill — In 1993, this project came as a holiday gold mine. The voice of Vince Gill and Christmas songs just seem to go hand in hand. Christmas favorites like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “What Child Is This” and “White Christmas” come across with new birth. Highlights here include Gill’s self-written “It Won’t Be The Same Next Year,” a moving ballad about his late brother, and the title cut, which features his daughter, Jenny.
Volume II Christmas
Alabama — They’re as priceless to the music world as a diamond in the precious jewel family. This collection of Alabama performances marks yet another primarily all-original package with the band singing as heavenly as ever. Absolutely superb is the word when describing such picks as “Christmas Is Love,” “Happy Birthday Jesus,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “New Year’s Eve” and a spread of heart-warming favorites. Guaranteed, you’ll like it, you’ll love it, you’ll want some more of it!
Kathy Mattea — The award-winning Kathy Mattea opted to stray away a bit from the traditional Christmas number game. Instead, she chose a line-up that only a vocalist such as herself could carry off. Most definitely, these songs are spiritually in-depth and so is Mattea’s energy revealed here. This disc was released almost fours years ago and will be one of the tops for many years to come. Favorites include “Mary, Did You Know,” “What A Wonderful Beginning,” “Somebody’s Talkin’ About Jesus” and “Christ Child’s Lullabye.” A swarm of ace Nashville songwriters contributed to this holiday treasure chest, so it’s no wonder that Good News is still a great buy.
O Holy Night
John Berry — “Joy To The World,” a John Berry Christmas album has come! Actually, this very delicious taste of what Christmas music should be all about came out just less than three years ago. With each and every spin of this disc, the joy only gets more powerful. Berry mixes both Christmas favorites with a few extraordinary unknowns, and then pours his voice into them like fresh maple syrup on early morning pancakes. The line-up includes: “Joy To The World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Away In A Manger,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “The Christmas Song,” “Silent Night,” “O Come Emmanuel” and the absolutely powerful “O Holy Night.” Berry makes this one his very own.
Merry Christmas From London
Lorrie Morgan — Ooh la la! This first-time holiday effort from ace vocalist Lorrie Morgan is as crisp and refreshing as a trip to snowy London on Christmas Eve. You’ll feel you’re right there with Big Ben just behind you as you’re humming along to such cuts as “My Favorite Things,” “O Holy Night,” “Toyland,” “Ave Maria” and “Up On Santa Claus Mountain.” Now imagine all this backdropped with the enchanting sounds of the New World Philharmonic.