Though I have a lot of Christmas albums, there are very few that I can regularly listen to this time of the year in their entirety. Generally, I make playlists of the songs I enjoy. Yet there are a few that sustain my interest because they are either well-crafted collections of new Christmas songs or innovative or inspired renditions of classics. In the end, a substantial part of what goes into listening is subjective, but this season I can only tell you that these ten albums are ones that are worth my sustained listening. The first three are new this year; the last seven are (at least in our home), classics. I hope you enjoy sampling these (as every title is linked to a page where you can listen):
1. Songs for the Advent Conspiracy - Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings. For Christmas music, this is definitely non-mainstream. A benefit CD supplying funds to build wells for the poor in Western Kenya, the CD is a ministry of Jacob's Well Church in Kansas City Missouri. A collection of originals and classic Christmas songs, the music has a melodic feel, Americana at times and other times like some sort of space-rock. I like both it and the cause --- every bit. (I also appreciate the four-panel gatefold CD with original art. Nice touch in a digital age.) It's about as strange as the CD I bought about 15 years ago by The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, but that's another story!
2. Christmas - Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips. One of my favorite new CDs, this husband-wife duo have put together a warm, textured recording of originals and classics, including some of my favorites (like "Some Children See Him"). I think this is one I can listen to all year. It's folk-pop at it's best, with nary a clunker. (But you can skip Track 13, which I believe is their young daughter singing. Cute, but one listen is enough!)
3. Songs for Christmas - Phil Wickham. This guy is CCM through and through, and yet I like the CD. He has a voice reminiscent of DC Talk's Kevin Max. Nice. And the renditions of classics are truly beautiful and inspired. Favorite track: "Prelude/The First Noel."
4. December in Vermont - Diane Zeigler. An absolutely gorgeous recording by a singer-songwriter with a killer voice. It's mellow, devotional tone is perfect for a late night in the dark around the Christmas tree.
5. Winterfall - Lee Spears and Donna Michael. This instrumental CD of hammered dulcimer and piano has stayed in my CD player every year since its release in 1987. It provides a gorgeous sonic backdrop for my workday. Spears is a North Carolina hammered dulcimer maker. I generally can't listen long to a dulcimer by itself, but paired with the piano, the total sound is mellow, the percussive effect pleasantly muted.
6. December - The Moody Blues. An awesome performing symphonic rock band from the Seventies, the Blues made this great seasonal recording in 2003. Justin Hayward has one of my favorite male voices, and uses it to great effect here in both classics and originals.
7. The Animals Christmas - Art Garfunkel and Amy Grant. Written by the great songwriter Jimmy Webb, this retelling of the Christmas legend pairs CCM crossover artist Grant with one-half of Simon and Garfunkel. Two great voices. Inspired writing and arranging. This one will never go out of print.
8. Home for Christmas - Amy Grant. Four Christmas albums! That's how many Amy Grant has made, and that's not even counting The Animals' Christmas. And yet this is the most consistent of the bunch: a classic, well-done collection of carols. For when you just want to hear traditional carols.
9. Come Rejoice - Judy Collins. Whatever you think of Judy Collins, she has an amazing voice and is a fine entertainer (I've seen her twice). Unlike her best of collection, where the sixty-something Collins appeared in the buff (my wife and I had to modify that cover art for the sake of our children and us), she appears fully clothed here. I love her renditions of "Away in a Manger," "Cherry Tree Carol" (listen to the words of this odd but poignant song), and the original "Song for Sarajevo" (which, though not about Christmas, now forever reminds me of Christmas).
10. Songs for Christmas - Sufjan Stevens. I don't what this is doing here at the bottom, because I love this quirky 5-CD box set. Stevens manages to wed a campfire sing-a-long to a choir and a lot of plunky banjo and simple guitar and who knows what other odd sounds for a recording that is down right worshipful. Listen to "Holy, Holy, Holy," and see if you don't worship. Buy the box. Digital downloads just don't do this lovingly prepared box set justice.
And there you have it. Except for a playlist of those few songs culled from other Christmas CDs, this is what I'll listen to this Christmas. Enjoy! And please make a few suggestions of your own.