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Top Five Christmas Projects from 2008

New music comes out every year for Christmas as the counter tops at any retail store can attest, but sometimes it is nice to revisit some great holiday music from years past, and to add some new artists and styles to your Christmas playlist.

These are my pics for the top five Christmas albums that came out in 2008–well worth a listen this season.

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.

1. Star Of Wonder 1:25

2. It’s True (featuring Toby Groves) 4:41

3. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear 4:38

4. O Holy Night 3:08

5. To Be With You 4:28

6. Angels We Have Heard On High 4:47

7. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas 2:39

8. Toy Packaging 2:15

9. Peace Peace 3:03

10. A Cradle In Bethlehem 3:00

11. Silent Night 5:49

12. Go Tell It On The Mountain

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. I’m a purist!

1. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year 3:59

2. Mary, Did You Know? 5:13

3. The Christmas Song 4:59

4. O Come All Ye Faithful 5:24

5. O Holy Night 5:07

6. Merry Christmas With Love 4:17

7. Winter Wonderland 4:09

8. O Come, O Come Emmanuel / What Child Is This? 5:34

9. Silver Bells 3:59

10. I Wonder As I Wander 5:42

11. He Is Emmanuel 4:03

12. Away In a Manger / Silent Night

O Holy Night: A Live Christmas Celebration – David Phelps

An acquaintance of mine was present when this project was recorded live on David’s Tennessee farm. She said it was so cold inside the barn, she was shivering… until David got up to sing! While this project will appeal to any of David’s fans with its joyful strains, uptempo carols, and David’s amazing three-octave voice, it is so so uptempo, it looses some of the traditional feel that I enjoy so much. And, much like I find children talking and people laughing on holiday tracks a distraction, so it is with the live audience. Wait a minute — that was my first time listening to it. By the second listen, I was thinking, ‘This is really a pretty fabulous project!’ My favorite songs are the haunting arrangement of ‘Lully, Lullay (What Child Is This?),’ the angelic ‘Away in a Manger (With Sleep Little Baby)’ and the beautiful last sing, ‘O Holy Night.’ Recorded on CD and DVD,

1. O come, O Come Emmanuel

2. The Singer

3. Hallelujah!

4. Hark The Herald!

5. Lully, Lullay with What Child Is This?

6. Away In A Manger with Sleep Little Baby

7. One Wintry Night

8. One King

9. Mary, Did You Know?

10. If Everyone Believed

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!

1. What Christmas Means to Me

2. Christmas Makes Me Cry (feat. Matthew West)

3. O Holy Night

4. Christmas Day (feat. Michael W. Smith)

5. Feliz Navidad/Joy To the World medley

6. Little Drummer Boy

7. Silent Night

8. Children Go Where I Send Thee

9. The ‘Bell Medley’ (Silver Bells, Carol of the Bells and Caroling, Caroling)

10. Mary’s Little Boy Child

Joy To The World – Faith Hill

This is the first holiday album from super-star Faith Hill. ‘Joy To The World’ features beautiful new versions of ten traditional and modern classics, complete with horns, strings, woodwings, percussion and chorales, much like the big-band orchestras of the 40’s and 50’s. Joining Faith on this release are, The Nashville Orchestra, the London-based choirs Metro Voices and The London Oratory School Boys Choir. The full orchestration on several of the songs including ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ gives them a big band sound. The project also introduces an original Christmas song, ‘A Baby Changes Everything,’ written by Nashville songwriters Tim Nichols, Craig Wiseman and K.K. Wiseman.

1. Joy To The World! 2:13

2. What Child Is This? 3:36

3. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town 2:45

4. Little Drummer Boy 3:06

5. O Come, All Ye Faithful 3:46

6. Holly Jolly Christmas 2:18

7. Away In A Manger 3:14

8. O Holy Night! 4:58

9. Winter Wonderland 2:38

10. Silent Night, Holy Night! 3:09

11. A Baby Changes Everything

Five different projects, by five different artists, with five different sounds = five different ways to enjoy your holidays even more, compliments of Christmas 2008!

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