December in Vermont
: December in Vermont
A wonderful singer-songwriter, Zeigler's folky, mellow renditions of carols and originals is warm and intimate, kind of like listening to a female James Taylor.
Amy Grant: Home for Christmas
So, she has like three, or four Christmas releases? Wow. But I think this one is my favorite.
Art Garfunkel and Amy Grant: The Animals' Christmas
A classic recording based on the Christmas tradition of the animals speaking, and written/produced by Jimmy Webb, we can be grateful this collaboration has stayed in print.
James Taylor: James Taylor At Christmas
A still hard to beat voice, Taylor sings classic carols as well a few well-known non-religious Christmas songs. I love his rendition of "Some Children See Him" and the widely covered "River," by Joni Mitchell.
Jars of Clay: Christmas Songs by Jars of Clay
There's not much I don't like by these guys, and so this one ranks among the most listened to at Christmas.
Lee Spears Donna Beck Michael: Winterfall by Donna Beck Michael, Lee Spears (2005) Audio CD
First released in 1987, this is one of my favorite instrumental Christmas CDs, featuring hammered dulcimer and piano arrangements of classic carols.
Mindy Smith: My Holiday
One of the few good new offerings this Christmas, this release mixes six originals and arrangements of traditonal songs, ranging from homespun acoustic numbers to jazzier takes. Nice.
A Very Rosie Christmas
Rosie Thomas: A Very Rosie Christmas
Touching, diverse, and fun, Rosie Thomas and her nutty alter ego Sheila Shaputo is a delight. Last seen on the Christmas tour by Sufjan Stevens in 2012. I love this record, and the vignette at the end (Rosie a/k/a Sheila) is classic.
Sara Groves: O Holy Night by Sara Groves (2008) Audio CD
While it's not my favorite Sara Groves record, I love her voice, so I always find myself listening to this in December.
Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas (Vol. 1-4)
Like a campfire sing-a-long, only with hymns and carols and some originals, Sufjan's quirky, inimitable style is one I love, and when I listen to these five discs I am moved to worship (and occasionally laugh).
Sufjan Stevens: Silver & Gold (Songs for Christmas, Vol. 6-10)
A wonderful follow-up to his Songs for Christmas Vol. 1-5, this additional five-disc collection is full of more riches (and some throwaways, of course), including the very (as my family agree) depressing but beautiful "Justice Delivers Its Death" (a/k/a "Silver and Gold") and the lengthy and fun "The Christmas Unicorn."
C.S. Lewis: Mere Christianity
I suppose I could list ALL of Lewis's books, but this one is a great place to start. His defense of basic or mere Christian belief is compelling.
Rebecca Manley Pippert: Out of the Saltshaker
Beautiful, practical advice on "lifestyle evangelism," Pippert's classic book is simply about how to listen, ask good questions, communicate well, and be a friend to nonChristians -- that is, to simply be who you are. Much better than the "four spiritual laws" or any other formulaistic approach to evangelism. (****)
James W. Sire: The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
Navigating all the belief systems thrown at me in college, this comparism and critique of worldviews was extremely helpful. It's clear, concise, and practical. Sire covers the basics of such "isms" as theism, deism, xistentialism, "New Age" philosophy, and postmodernism in this fourth edition. (*****)
John White: The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living
As a new Christian in the late Seventies, I found this book's practical and tenderly pastoral chapters on the basics --- faith, prayer, temptation, evangelism, guidance, Bible study, fellowship, and work --- immensely helpful, worth reading over and over again. That it has stayed in print is a testimony to that. Classic. (*****)
Larry Woiwode: Beyond the Bedroom Wall
Long, but compelling, Woiwode's 1960s book looks at three generations of the Midwest Neimoller family. Though I have not read it in several years, parts of it are seared in my memory. (*****)
Beryl Markham: West With the Night
This book has some of the most delightful prose I have ever read. The first page alone draws you right in. Markham, a contemporary of Karen Blixen ("Out of Africa") writes of Africa, horses, and flying (she was the first to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic.)
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
Likely my favorite books of all time, this fantasy tale opens up an entire mythical world of good v. evil played out by a small hobbit named Frodo and his perilous quest to destroy the one Ring of great (and corrupting) power. Behind it all -- the unseen hand of Providence.
C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
A classic allegory for the gospel, and well-known to most all by virtue of the film series. I read these to my son at age 4 and keep on reading them. Not nearly as long or dense as The Lord of the Rings. (*****)
Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
A true classic of Southern writing, and also a great movie, I love the characters in this story, particularly the young girl, Scout. Harper Lee never wrote another thing after this. (*****)
Mary Oliver: Thirst
A beautiful collection of new poems from this Pulitzer-prize winning writer, probably her most faith-based ever. I read and savor one each day. Very accessible, not depressing (much poetry is), and well-crafted. I think this one will hold up over time. (*****)
Wendell Berry: Fidelity : Five Stories
A wonderful collection of short stories about a set of overlapping characters in rural Kentucky, where Berry lives. A wonderful wirter, Berry brings to life the setting and its people in the way only a native could. This, along with Silent Passengers (by Larry Woiwode) is one of the two best collections of short stories I have ever read. (*****)
Leland Ryken: The Liberated Imagination : Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wheaton Literary Series)
The best single source for developing a Christian view of the arts, Ryken's book is well-written and organized and useful for personal study as well as use in a small group or class. The Introduction itself is a wonderful outline of a Christian view, and the quotes he collects are worth the price alone. (*****)
Susan G. Wooldridge: Poemcrazy : Freeing Your Life with Words
The absolute best book to get you writing poetry or anything else for that matter, Woolridge helps us fall in love with words. The book consists of a series of 60 short, two to four page chapters, many of which end with a simple exercise to get you writing. It's a pleasure to read and will "free the poet within." (*****)
Frederick Buechner: Godric
A favorite novel by one of my favorite authors, Buechner writes a tale of an Irish monk gripped by grace and yet aware of his sin. Most said this was too religious for the mainstream and too earthy for the church. I think it's just right. (*****)
Alexander McCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Today Show Book Club #8)
In the book that launched the popular series, Smith portrays in beautiful language the life of a middle-aged, overweight African woman who opened her own detective agency in Botswana. This unlikely premise makes the warmth and generous nature of this story a real surprise! A wonderful story, and wonderful characters. (*****)
Anne Rice: Christ the Lord : Out of Egypt
A fascinating fictional and yet not unbiblical account of the seven-year old Jesus coming to grips with his divinity. (****)
Leif Enger: Peace Like a River
One of my favorite books of all time, Enger's novel of a father rasing his three kids in 1960s Minnesota is endearing, warm, full of crisp prose and seductive characters (particularly the children). It's a world where miracles happen, and God is reality, and if you don't believe it, you may by the time you finish. It's one of the only books I have read that, upon finishing it, I wanted to immediately read again because I missed the characters so much. (*****)
Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
A social critic with near-cult status since his death, Postman's seminal book from 1986 traced our descent from the Age of Typography (written word) to the Age of Television (image), and all its deletrious and silly consequences. He reminds us what's so bad about TV, if we really need the reminder, but provides few clues as to how to stop the slide into ignorance. Call him Luddite, but he's right. A must read. (*****)
Since I purchased the deluxe reissue of this second album by U2, I had not given it a full listening until now. I'm not sure it's my favorite U2 album, but it's certainly the most overtly religious and most passionate. I loved it when I first heard it, and I still do.
Jackson Browne: The Pretender
A gem of folk-pop Seventies sound, this mellow and melancholy record served as a soundtrack to my college years. Every song is great, something that can rarely be said about an album.
Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming
I'm praying for Dylan to be saved. Then, a few years later I'm driving down the highway and "You Gotta Serve Somebody" comes on the radio, and the announcer says Dylan is a born-again Christian. I nearly drove off the road. This is my favorite Dylan record. (*****)
The record that kicked Irish band U2 into the bigtime. I loved the record, and listened to it incessantly. Big rock.
The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds: 40th Anni- versary Edition
A watershed record in its time, Pet Sounds was the Sgt. Pepper of America, forever changing the Beach Boys and marking out Brian Wilson as a harmonic and production genius. This is about its thousandth reissue, but well worth it for the 5.1 Surround Sound mix. (*****)
Bruce Cockburn: Humans
Of all of Bruce's many records, I like this one the best. Very folk. Lyrically intelligent with a pulsing undercurrent of Christian belief. (*****)
Joni Mitchell: Blue
Guarantted to bring you right down, Mitchell's record is a classic in melancholy folk, with that unique voice and style. Inimitable. (*****)
David Wilcox: Big Horizon
Wilcox may be one of the best songwirters out there. I love this record best, with "That's What the Lonely Is For" and "Big Mistake." It really showcases what he can do. (****)
Yes: The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniver- sary Collection
The greatest prog-rock band of all time! This collection includes a new and more melodic take on their signature song, "Roundabout," and three other new songs, as well as collects some great tunes from their huge body of work. (*****)
Jane Kelly Williams: Tapping the Wheel
Absolutely gorgeous singer-songwriter with an arresting voice, Jane sings wonderfully, plays piano and guitar in a unique style, and is a great friend. This enjoyed a national release onMercury back in 1995, when the business was still interested in singer-songwriters. Out of print, but you can still buy it in the Silent Planet store on this site. (*****)
Various: Making God Smile
A Silent Planet release in 2002, this record was a gift to Beach Boy Brian Wilson on his 60th birthday, a tribute by artists such as Phil Keaggy, Sixpence None the Richer, Kate Campbell, Kevin Max (D.C. Talk), Brooks Williams, and more. Beautiful. What a privilege to be involved. For sale in the Silent Planet store on this site. (*****)
Aaron Sprinkle: Bareface
Talented producer, writer, and performer, best known for his work with Poor Old Lu and more recently Fair, Sprinkle serves up great power-pop. (****)
Jan Krist: Love Big Us Small
While many may gravitate to Jan;s best known release, "Curious," I prefer the mix of songs on this one, particularly "Tarzan Tells All." I also like the alternate and more rockin' takes on earlier folk tunes recorded by here, a la Armand Petri. This one is out of print but for sale in the Silent Planet store on this site. (****)
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers (Vol. 1)
A delicious 45 minutes of pure pop delight. Sweet and Hoff ("The Bangles") cover classic Sixties pop tunes. (****)
The Beatles: LOVE
All I can say is WOW. This album hit my list of top records immediately! The Beatles have never sounded better. It's like listening to a 26-track medley, one continuous stream, with bits and pieces of other Beatles songs underlying the main track, and so on. Very cool. A must buy for any Beatles fan and essential for anyone who enjoys great music. (*****)
Bruce Hornsby: Intersections
Probably the best box set in existence, no kidding. This is not a collection of hits and outtakes and demos, but rather, a career-spanning retrospective, gathering song-gems from all over along with live performances and a full DVD of live renditions. Well worth the price. Hornsby is a gifted songwriter, player, and performer. There's nothing not to like here. (*****)
Rich Mullins: A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Raga- muffin Band
One of my all-time favorite CCM albums, this album is marked by beautiful songwriting that focuses on the transcendant (liturgy) and the immanent (a legacy), rooted in the stuff of this world and yet calling us beyond to worship God. Every song is a gem. (*****)
Brian Wilson: Smile
A sonic delight, in 2005 the former Beach Boys leader finally recorded the long-lost advant-garde project of the late 1960s, what some called the American Sgt. Pepper. The largely impressionistic lyrics evoke images of the American landscape, and the music is varied instrumentally but always with Wilson's trademark attention to vocal harmonies. It was worth the wait! (*****)
Rosanne Cash: Black Cadillac
This is one of the best singer-songwriter albums I have heard, both musically and lyrically. Rosanne, daughter of Johnny Cash, writes openly of her grief, anger, and wrestling with faith (with no final resolution) at the loss of her father Johnny, stepmother June, and mother Vivian (Johnny's first wife), all in the course of two years. It's emotionally difficult to hear, you might say it's "blood on the tracks." (*****)
Jimmy Webb: Ten Easy Pieces
Though I discovered it a decade late (it was released in 1996), this album proves that Webb, who penned such familiar songs as Galveston, MacArthur Park, If These Walls Could Speak, and more, is one of America's best songwriters. You've heard them all made hits -- by someone else. With the understated musical accompaniment and Webb's own voice this time around, it's the songs that shine here. Marvelous. (*****)
Adrienne Young and Little Sadie: The Art of Virtue
Adrienne Yound and her band, Little Sadie, can out-Allison Krauss the queen of bluegrass herself on this excellent blend of folk, bluegrass and country. Lyrically, it resonates with virtue enough to warm the soul and remind us of the Giver of all good music. Great playing (particularly the fiddle), great voice, and wisdom beyond her years. (*****)
Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
Though truly indescribable, this folkster's most recent outing is a sonic and lyric delight, soothing and a bit strange, but ultimately uplifting. Lyrically, Sufjan cuts a path through Illinois place and time, writing about John Wayne Gacy, or Superman, and yet, he speaks to each of us ultimately. Beautiful. (*****)
Nancy Guthrie: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas
This work features short sermons and essays from the likes of Whitefield, Luther, Spurgeon, and more modern-day theologians like Francis Schaeffer, John Piper, and R.C. Sproul. (Yes, it is decidedly Reformed in perspective.) Thoughtful, rich, and yet readable in 10-15 minutes each.
Alister E. McGrath: Incarnation (Truth and the Christian Imagination)
In another beautifully illustrated hardcover, Oxford theologian McGrath reflects on the mystery of the Incarnation, as illuminated by a series of fine art paintings. He weaves together poetry, prayer, and theological reflection in a very accessible way.
David McCullough: In the Dark Streets Shineth (Including DVD Narrated by David McCullough)
In a well-illustrated hardcover book, historian David McCullough tells the story of the meeting of Winston Churchill and FDR just days after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and their message for the nation. The DVD is a reading of the story at the 2009 Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons
This collection of the German pastor and theologian's sermons dates from 1928 to 1944. Reading them, and knowing something of his life, you can witness the spiritual growth and maturity as you read them chronologically.
Various: Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
A mixed bag, this gathering of readings ranges from C.S. Lewis to Dorothy Day to Sylvia Plath, and yet when they are good, they are really good. Each takes 5-10 minutes to read.