Reviews: Audrey Assad, Mercy Me, Fireflight, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture

As students head back to school and the thoughts of summer turn into happy memories, some new recordings have come across my desk that punctuate an otherwise slow summer in Christian music releases.

Audrey Assad– Heart

Catholic artists have been gradually impacting the broader Christian market.  Matt Maher, Ceili Rain and, in Canada, Chris Bray, are all getting radio exposure.  This release from Audrey Assad continues the trend, with one of Christian music’s most promising new voices to appear in years.  The sweet and clear vocals are reminiscent of Sarah McLaughlin, with a lyrical depth that is refreshing.  Assad honestly talks about the struggles and joys of the Christian walk.  “Blessed are the Ones”is a celebration of marriage without watering down the inevitable struggles and “Even the Winter” encourages the listener and gently conveys a message of hope.  “Won Me Over” has radio hit written all over it, with an extremely catchy hook.  The piano driven “Lament” is another special song with its hauntingly ethereal vocal stylings.  “Slow” meditates on how life often unwinds in God’s time, not ours, and is one of the best examples of Assad’s unique song-writing abilities.  Often, after a successful debut, artists run into the sophomore jinx.  Assad has not only avoided this but has produced an album that is a significant leap forward in artistry!

Mercy Me– The Hurt & The Healer

Mercy Me is now taking a role as one of Christian music’s more seasoned artists, a decade after their monster hit “I Can Only Imagine” crossed over into the secular airwaves.  These veteran artists do not disappoint here as this is a very good release.  “You Know Better” is a mid-tempo rocker to open the album, with its familiar Christian radio sound, but the album kicks into high gear with “You don’t care at all”, which is an aggressive piece, but sweetened with Mercy Me melodic sensibilities. The title track honestly deals with the realities of Christian life with a very catchy yet still emotionally moving song.  The fun and quirky “To Whom it May Concern” shows that Mercy Me can definitely write songs that lie outside a generic Christian sound, as does the song “Best of Me”, which is one of my favorites.  The other songs have a bit more of an Adult Contemporary sound with a slight country and blues flavoring. Overall, definitely an album to check out.

Fireflight– Now

This is an excellent Grammy-nominated band that I have never reviewed.  “Now” is their fourth studio album and it is a winner.  This is a hard rock band featuring the clean and powerful vocals of Dawn Michelle.  If you are a fan of the band, Evanescence, then this is a similar sounding band, albeit grittier and more raw.  “Stay Close” opens the album with intense power chords and clever loops.  “Escape” features the juxtaposition of a female voice with male background vocals, and is a highlight.  Lyrically, most of the album sings from the point of view of youthful angst, crying out for a Saviour. This is evident in songs like “Ignite” which says “Don’t hesitate to explode/burn the pain inside your soul/ don’t hesitate, let it go/ start a fire, embrace the Light.”  The title track “Now” is one of the best hard rock songs of the year.  In fact, this is one of the best hard rock albums released in 2012 and is getting heavy rotation in my mp3 player!

Kari Jobe– Where I find You

This is Kari Jobe’s sophomore album and focuses on worship music.  Thansfully, some of the songs sound quite different than the cookie-cutter songs often found on Christian radio.  Although not as original sounding as Assad’s album, this is still a very solid effort.  Jobe has a distinctive delivery and the acoustic-based pop with her sweet expressive vocals makes this album special.  “Steady my heart” is a great way to start off the album with a powerful pop performance.,   Another highlight, “We Are,” is an anthemic praise song whereas “We exalt your name” is the most distinctive song on the album, and features Matt Maher.  Now, there is a bit of sameness to the songs after a while, which is a slight caveat.  That being said, this album elevates Kari Jobe to the level of other top worship artists, such as Chris Tomlin and Hillsong.

Jesus Culture– Awakening (Live from Chicago)
Jesus Culture is a highly regarded worship band that I have never reviewed.  The group is a bit unusual in that they do not tour but put on the famous Jesus Culture conferences that have been running over the past decade, with a similar impact to that of the Catholic Steubenville conferences.  This is an album very similar to the Hillsong live worship albums, with its big arena sound, full rock production and repeating singalong lyrics.  Each of the vocalists- Kim Walker-Smith, Chris Quilala and others- bring a different flavor to these songs, but the highlight for me is the heartfelt “Father of Lights”.  This is a double album and, as such, won’t be for everyone as the live setting means that some of the pieces are quite long and repetitive.  Recommended for fans of worship music.

Kingdom Bound 2012 and the state of Christian music

It has been a yearly tradition for my family to go to one of the biggest Christian Music Festivals in the United States, Kingdom Bound, and this year was no different.  We pack up all 16 of us (my 9 kids invite along their friends to bump up the numbers) and go for 5 days of rides and the best in Christian music.

This year, however, there was a marked change in the atmosphere.  Attendance appeared to be down significantly.  Some of the stages were shrunk significantly from the past   Now, one can blame some of this on the state of the economy but I believe there may be another factor at play here.

I observed that many of the artists playing the main stages were pretty much the same artists that had been appearing since I started going to this festival almost 15 years ago.  Toby Mac, Third Day, Phil Keaggy and even Switchfoot are examples of such acts.  Even Matt Maher and David Crowder, two of the newer acts I saw, have been in the music industry for some time now.  They all put on great performances, especially Phil Keaggy who put on display why he is considered by Guitar Magazine to be one of the top acoustic guitarists ever.  However, there was no sense of excitement or discovery which is really is what is needed to keep the momentum with the younger audience.

It is my hope that the Christian record companies and radio stations will start taking a risk on independent acts, and that these festivals will start to give a voice to new and upcoming acts.  Otherwise, my fear is that the Christian music industry will start to fade into irrelevance in contemporary culture.

All the old Catholic Register articles are now up!

Check out the widget to the right… all the articles I have written (except for a few missing here and there.. if you have them, I’d love to get a copy) are in box.net.  It is a bit cumbersom to scan through but the first 2 digits represent the year.  For example, 03 means 2003.  I put the artists from the article in the filename to help with the search for articles.

Some of these interviews are especially meaningful for me so here are links directly to those articles:
1. Interview with Steve Taylor
2. Rich Mullin’s last ever interview
3. Phil Keaggy article
4. Kathy Troccoli interview
5. Steve Bell interview
6. Ceili Rain interview
7. Scarecrow and Tinmen interview
8. Natalie MacMaster interview
9. Leahy interview
10. Rachael Lampa interview
11. Interview with Brian Volmer of Helix
12. Chris Pagdett interview
13. Janelle
14. Matt Maher interview

Mike Mangione- Full time Catholic Musician!

Mike Mangione is one of the few Catholic artists who does music full time. He is known for collaborating with Christopher West with his Theology of the Body conferences and has released three albums, “There and Back”, “Tenebrae” and “Offerings”, which have been well received by critics. I had a chance to interview Mike at a recent concert.

Dave; Can you tell me how you got started in music, and how you became
involved in Catholic music, particularly with Christopher West?

Mike; I started playing at an early age because my mother didn’t want her kids fighting.  I started playing drums and my older brother, Thomas, started with guitar.  Our eldest brother Pete decided to opt out.  Over time, Thomas and I started playing together eventually forming a band. 

Christopher West started listening to our music back in 2005 and began to really rest in it.  He loved the ache in the writing and performance….it was pretty raw stuff when he started listening and it spoke to him.  He and I stayed in touch and would get together pondering the idea of working together and one day we did.

Dave: Your music is difficult to categorize as it is a blend of acoustic and electric instruments, as well as a blend between folk and rock.  What
are your influences and how did you evolve into such a unique sound.

Mike: When I started writing, I wanted to sound like all my favorite artists and I wanted to write about the subject of what it means to be human.  We always emulated artists who wrote about things bigger than themselves. John Paul II speaks of entering into the mystery.  A lot of artists I loved as a child, like Bob Dylan, U2, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel, would write in a way that transported the listener out of their realm and toward the mystery.  Over time, I began to develop a taste for a little more soul and movement. I started listening to some blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf even some Robert Johnson stuff.  My brother got really immersed in the blues and fell in love with Hubert Sumlin and Son House.  These artists all wanted to know who they were and where they were going… so these songs resonated with me.  

Dave; You have been a performer at the past few World Youth Days.  What are the positives of being involved at that level?  What have been some of
the hardships. 

Mike; The positives are the positive of just being there.  It is the Universal Church made visible.  It is amazing just to be with people from all over the world and focus on your similarities.  It’s beautiful.  As an artist, you get to tap into the electricity the crowd gives off. You don’t even need to plug in! 

The hardships have been lack of organization and respect towards the artists.  It is such a large scale event and the majority are just volunteers so the understanding of event management and performance can be pretty limited.  That would be fine and workable but sometimes the tempers get high and that is never what you want when you’re thousands of miles away from home.
  
Dave; As one of the few full time Catholic musicians, what would you say and advise to those artists who may feel called to do something similar
for a career. 

Mike: Search out the Catholicity in the secular and let it inspire you.  You will have a bigger pallet to work with and your work will resonate with a broader audience for all the right reasons.  

To sample Mike’s music, check out the following videos

New Releases from Thousand Foot Krutch, Britt Nicole, Starfield and Casting Crowns

Here are some new reviews for you to check out:
Thousand Foot Krutch– The End is Where We Begin
Have you ever created an exercise playlist for yourself where every song is aimed to pump you up?  Thousand Foot Krutch’s seventh album and their first independent release after a lengthy relationship with Tooth and Nail Records, has that relentless in-your-face feel to it.  After a brief  robotic Cylon intro, the album kicks into high gear with “We Are” and never really lets up.  Songs like “Light Up the Sky”  and “Let the Sparks fly” are intense, interchanging powerful crunchy guitar chords with Trevor McNevan’s rap verses (which harken back to the band’s earlier albums) to produce heat not heard in Christian music since Skillet’s “Awake and Alive” album.   When I promoted Krutch almost 15 years ago in concert, the band whipped the youth into a frenzy that I had rarely seen before.  The songs on this album remind me of that concert and I suspect these songs will all translate very well into concert.  Even the very theatrical and orchestral “Courtesy Call” builds in a very cool manner into a head-banging climax.   It could be said that the album draws too closely from influences like Rage Against the Machine and Linkin Park, but this is also what gives this album such a solid feel from start to finish.  So far, this is my favorite hard rock Christian album of the year.  Most highly recommended
Britt Nicole has always been my recommendation for those who want an alternative to female dance-pop singers on the radio.  On this, her third album Britt Nicole continues to create catchy songs that would not be out of place on secular hit radio, reminding me of Katy Perry and Rihanna on many occasions.  The title cut “Gold” encourages the youth to see that God has made every person valuable.   “Look Like Love”. “Amazing Life (Capital Kings Remix)” and “Breakthrough” continue the commercial pop sound, and would not sound out of place at your local dance club.  The highlight of the album, though, is “Ready or Not’,  a collaboration with rapper Lecrae, which has the potential to help Britt Nicole to a wider audience in the secular world.  Now that Britt Nicole is on her third album, the lyrics on this album reflect a new-found maturity.   The ballads are a little too similar to the usual easy-listening  Christian music which dominates the format but this is a small nit-pick.   Overall, definitely worth a listen.
Starfield– The Kingdom
Like Thousand Foot Krutch, this is an independent release from a band that has been one of Canada’s top acts in recent years.  The band seems to have picked up a Switchfoot influence which is a great stylistic departure.  The first song,
“Natural Disaster” brims with an energetic and edgy sound.  “Burns for You” continues in this vein, at a slightly lower intensity.  “The Kingdom” is an anthemic number which should go over well in concert.  The remainder of the songs stay in the same consistent mid-tempo praise style that so dominant the Christian airwaves.  Thus, my only minor criticism is a sameness to the songs after awhile.  The only break is the rousing “All I Want is You”, my favorite on the album.  Nonetheless, this is a promising change of direction for Starfield.  Solid and quite enjoyable.
Casting Crowns– Come to the Well
Casting Crowns are the darlings of the Christian music world.  I suspect I will be a lone dissenting voice by stating my disappointment with their latest offering.  After the very nice “Courageous”, a song from the soundtrack of the movie of the same name, and, “Jesus, Friend of Sinners”, which questions the self-righteous in all of us,  the remainder of the songs fall short for me of what one of the most consistent Christian bands should be capable of.  Although the lyrics tackly some interesting issues, the commercial Christian radio-friendly arrangements seem to stop the album from connecting with me.  An example is “My Own Worst Enemy” which tackles the same issues as “Monster” from Skillet.  Listen to both songs and the latter song is simply more sincere and believable.  Recommended  for fans of this band but I feel that Casting Crowns has come to the same well once too often.

Canadian Christian Music Scene in Great Shape

This year’s Canadian Gospel Music Association Awards (CGMA) was a true showcase for upcoming artists.  In addition to Catholic artists, Chris Bray and Mags, there was a huge number of awards going to these exciting new artists, many who were showcasing debut albums. Jodi King, City Harmonic, Tenore and High Valley not only received awards, but were often called upon and delivered great performances at the gala event.  If this is any indication of the health of the Canadian Christian music industry, then there is surely a bright future.  This column will focus on this trove of Canadian talent, both new and established.

Downhere– On the Altar of Love
Downhere has received a surge of secular news with one of the two lead singers, Marc Martel, winning the opportunity to be Queen’s lead singer for this summer’s tour.  Downhere is unusual in that there are two singers, with Jason Germain sharing the duties.  This album leans slightly in favour of Germain, with most of the songs having a generic Adult Contemporary Christian music feel.  For me, however, the highlights on this album are the songs that feature  Martel’s voice.  Examples are “Only the Beginning” and “Rest” where Martel’s soaring vocals takes the songs to another level.  The album is really at its best when it is quirky, as in “Living the Dream” and “The Altar of Love”.  Although this is not the band’s best effort, there are definitely enough gems to make this a disc that I would recommend.

Hawk Nelson– Crazy Love (Plus the Light Sides)
Hawk Nelson is one of Canada’s most consistent bands, garnering both Christian and secular radio play with their positive lyrics and power pop/punk sound.  This album is an interesting combination of studio originals combined with acoustic covers of some of their biggest previous hits.  There are some heavier tunes like “Tally-Ho” but the highlights are the less intense numbers like “Your Love is a Mystery” and “Crazy Love”.   The acoustic remakes are great, especially “California” complete with Beach Boy-ish vocals.  This is a great Canadian band with another great release.

Ali Matthews– Carry Me Home
Stratford singer Ali Matthews was a big winner at this year’s CGMA awards.  This album highlights her sweet vocals and honest songwriting. Stylistically, this is pop with a tinge of country, jazz and rock that should appeal to many.  The lyrics are interesting and have a gentle way of pulling the listener into her message.  Highlights include “Without You Here”, which hints to Fleetwood Mac, the Bruce Cockburn cover “All the Diamonds in the World”. as well as the jazzy “A Little Faith”. At the end of the day, it is Ali’s sweet crystal clear vocals that stands out, particularly in the Dylan cover “To make you feel my love.”  Well done!

City Harmonic– I have a dream
These Hamilton newcomers are making quite a wave.  Besides winning 3 CGMA awards, they also gave a compelling live performance at the CGMA awards show.  This is a solid debut.  “Spark” is an extremely catchy song and one of my favorites. Many songs are driven by piano with a mid-tempo rock feel, such as “Mountaintop”.  The soulful blues of “Be Still, O My Style” is another strong cut whereas “Holy (Wedding Day)” is a wonderful ballad.  The highlight of the album is the single “Manifesto” which won the Recorded Song of the Year award.  There is a shade of uniformity in the songs but it is definitely a great start for City Harmonic

Jodi King– Little Smile
Hailing from Winnipeg, Jodi King has a crystal clear voice married to cool, laid back lyrics, and presented in a heartfelt pop styling.   If you like interesting female vocalists, this is a debut effort to check out.  Like her sensual and provocative performance at the CGMA awards, this artist will be an enigma in the Christian market as her lyrics are non-spiritual for the most part.  Jodi is definitely more a Christian singer than a singer who sings in Christianese.  The song “I Live for You” hints at the spiritual,  but most of the other songs are just interesting songs about life and living.  The highlights include “Breathing In/Breathing Out”, “My Boyfriend’s Jeans” and the quirky “Synthesize.”  This is a high quality release from a top notch artist.

High Valley– High Valley
This is a country album from Alberta brothers Brad, Bryan and Curtis Rempel that just oozes authenticity.  I grew up in Saskatchewan, so when the band sings on “Combine”, I can almost feel the grit of the machinery and the dry prairie air.   “I will Stand By You” features great playing and will hold toe-tapping appeal for country fans,. The songs feature fine storytelling in songs like “A Father’s Love”.   There is no doubt about the brothers’ spiritual priorities, particularly on my personal favorite cuts “Call Me Old Fashioned” and “Plastic Jesus”.  This is one of the most enjoyable country Christian recordings I have ever heard.  I am most definitely a fan!

Tenore– Sing! presents Tenore
In the vein of the Three Tenors, this trio, featuring previous Top 5 finalist Canadian Idol finalist Shane Wiebe, is a great combination of classical with a contemporary arrangement.  There are stellar versions of “Crown Him with Many Crowns”, “How Great Thou Art” and “All Creatures of our God and King”.  The stirring rendition of “Never Walk Alone” is worth the price of admission.  There is a tendency for the arrangements to build to the end of each song with a soaring high tenor crescendo, but this is a formula that works well.  It may explain how this debut release garnered 2 awards in the classical music category but also won the Blessings Fan’s Choice Award at the CGMA  this year.

Grammy Awards- Outstanding but scarred by sacrilege

With the unfortunate death of Whitney Houston, I tuned into the Grammy Awards for the first time in years.  I have to admit that I was curious about how they would deal with this tragic event but I was treated to a stellar show for the most part, with highlights that gave me hope about the direction of popular music.  Adele was incredible and her six awards for her “21” album was topped off by a live performance that removed all doubts that she is fully recovered from vocal cord nodules.  There was no auto-tune or lip-synching needed here!  Jennifer Hudson gave a moving and emotional tribute to Whitney, “I will always love you”.  Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney gave first-rate performances to kick off and end the evening, but I was sad at how much the music geniuses that I listened to growing up had aged.  This was even further hammered home with poignant performances by the Beach Boys and Glen Campbell.   I even enjoyed Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars far more than I had expected.  My hope for the music industry was elucidated very clearly by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters who said “… the human element of making music is what is most important.  Singing into a microphone, learning to play an instrument and learning to do your craft… it’s not about sounding absolutely correct.  It’s not about what goes on in a computer… it’s about what goes on [in your heart] and what goes on in [your head]”.   It is sentiments like that which give me hope that pop music will rise out of the quagmire of autotuned pseudo-art that was sadly demonstrated by Nicki Minaj in her blasphemous stab at Catholicism called “The Exorcism of Roman”.  Although she is arguably the most talented female rapper at the moment, this sacrilege-disguised-as-art was inexplicably allowed to be shown on television.  If this had been an attack on Islam, it would never have been shown, yet it appears that anti-Catholicism is the last form of discrimination that is allowed and even encouraged.  In an evening that showcased the best in pop music, Minaj demonstrated lack of respect, lack of taste and an extreme lack of talent.

 

David Crowder Band releases an epic album! Debuts at no. 2 on Billboard Charts!

With this new online format, I can now write a quick column when something significant happens that simply cannot wait.  The David Crowder Band, one of the few worship bands that I have consistently given positive reviews to, because of their non-formulaic way of presenting songs that are directed upwards toward God, has written a Requiem Mass for their last album release, entitled “Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c[the happiest of all keys])“.  Yes, you heard right!  What is even more amazing is that the album debuted at no. 2 on the secular Billboard Charts (right behind Adele’s 21), making this, by far, the highest debut ever by a Christian artist.  Aided by Catholic artist, Matt Maher, this is a concept album based around the Catholic Mass which is offered up for the dead, concepts which are distinctly non-Protestant.  Contrary to some rumors, David Crowder Band’s last album is not due to its namesake converting to Catholicism, but it is definitely a singularly unique and ecumenical landmark in contemporary Christian music history.

Through over 100 minutes, the band maintains our interest by weaving in and out with diversity; rock, folk, bluegrass, orchestral pieces and even chant are blended together.  There are electronic sounds and rhythmic loops blended in to create incredibly complex and wonderful arrangements.  Throughout, the glue that holds the project together is the structure of the Requiem Mass.  There are even Latin and Greek lyrics thrown in at various spots.  One has the Introit, Lux Atream, Kyrie Eleison, Offertory, Sanctus, Great Amen and Agnus Dei as part of the album.  There is a Communion song and, true to a funeral liturgy, there is no Gloria or Alleluia.  This is so richly imbued with liturgy that most Catholics would benefit some research into the Mass Requiem to get the most out of this album.

It almost seems wrong to pick out songs to highlight in this type of a project as every part is an important part of the whole.  However, one could easily pick out songs like “Come Find Me” , “God Have Mercy”, “Let Me Feel You Shine”, “After All (Holy)” and “There is a Sound” that are heads and shoulders over what one normally hears on Christian radio these days.  All these are worship songs but draw from the Catholic roots which feed into the lyrics, giving the album extra depth.

Those of you who are worried that this eclectic and wonderful modern masterpiece will end up in a Mass at your local church need not worry.  This album does not serve that purpose.  At the end of the day, it is a worship album based on and inspired by the Catholic Requiem Mass.  As I have mentioned many times over the years, there is much that Catholics can learn from our Protestant brethren regarding the art of music, but  Protestants are increasingly reaching into the Catholic church, aided by artists such as John Michael Talbot and Mat Maher, to add richness and depth into a worship genre that is beset by repetitiveness, trite lyrics and simplicity.  This  double album marks a fitting end to one of the most original Christian bands of the past decade.   I strongly recommend that every lover of music, whether Catholic, Protestant or secular, pick up this album as it is one of the best I have heard.  This could be the Christian recording of the past decade!

Ahhh… Christmas time is here (Part 2)

Well, as promised, here are some late-arriving Christmas offerings!  Enjoy!  I want to wish all my readers a wonderful Christmas!

Matthew West– The Heart of Christmas
There is a distinctive sound to many Christmas songs- happy jingle-jangle arrangements that permeate much of the offerings this time of year.  Matthew West seems to have hit all these notes in abundance.  The songs vary from the Michael Buble-like “Jingle Bells” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to the country with the beautiful “The Heart of Christmas” to the tearful true-story of “One Last Christmas”.   .  One could argue that Matthew West doesn’t bring anything new in these songs but just like it is hard to explain why a child  loves a well-worn blanket, I find this an incredibly comfortable and satisfying Christmas album.

Sarah Hart
– This Winter’s Eve

Sarah has always been one of my favorite Catholic female artists.  This very unique Christmas offering is no different.  With only one carol, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”, such a project is quite risky.  Without familiarity, the songs must all be strong enough to captivate and engage the listener.  This acoustic album, which features Sarah’s beautiful and delicate voice, has incredibly strong songs.  My favorites include the Celtic-flavored “The Light of Christmas Morn”, the Marian “Let it be So”,  and a duet with Amy Grant on “What Love Has Done”.  All three songs have the potential to be Christmas standards.   Highly Recommended!

Kutless– This is Christmas
This is an EP with Kutless’ familiar mid-tempo rock sound.   If you like Nickelback and similar bands, but with much cleaner vocals, this may be the album for you.  Songs like “O Holy Night” work great in this type of a setting.  There is a very odd song choice in “Breath of Heaven”, a song sung from the perpective of Mary and very jarring when sung by a male voice.  There is also a bit of sameness that haunts all the arrangements of this album.  Although not one of my favorites this year, it is still a reasonably solid offering and deserves a listen.

Ahhh… Christmas time is here (Part 1)

I love Christmas music and I usually start playing it right after Remembrance day!  This year has a bumper crop of new releases.  So much so that I am going to do the Christmas reviews in two parts.  I will do Part 2 later this month and try to catch some late releases as well.   First, though, I would like to plug my daughter’s CD, Dreaming of Christmas.  It was released late last year but garnered Best Seasonal Album nominations at the Canadian Gospel Music Association Awards this year.  These are Christmas favorites in a timeless jazz setting.   Check out her music at  www.Magsthesinger.com or see her Silent Night video, which shows off her artistic talent as well.

Toby Mac- Christmas in Diverse City

This is a truly diverse collection.  Toby Mac has gotten together some of the coolest artists in Christian music to help him on this CD.   “Christmas this year” is destined to be a classic with the unmistakable vocals of Leigh Nash.  “First Noel” with Owl City is a great mix of styles.  Other notable contributors include Jamie Grace on “Mary’s Boy Child”. “Little Drummer Boy” cashes in on drum-line sensibilities in a highly entertaining fashion.  The second half of the album features vocal contributions by his band members and is not as strong.  Still, this is likely to be one of the top selling Christina releases this Christmas

Hawk Nelson- Christmas

There is just something about power punk or ska that sounds joyous to me.  This EP from the Canadian group,  Hawk Nelson, starts out with a raucous “Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come all Ye Faithful”.  “Up on the Housetop”is the Irish Rovers on way too much caffeine.  Hawk Nelson also shows a softer side with a great “The Holly and The Ivy”.   It is too bad that this album is so short.  This is just too much fun!  One of my personal favorites.

David Crowder Band-Oh for Joy

I have always loved David Crowder’s creative and contemporary arrangements overlayed with his distinctive voice.  This EP has great versions of “Joy to the World“, “O come, O come Emmanuel” and “Go Tell it on the Mountain”.  The second half of the album shifts to live performances with a wonderfully worshipful “O Holy Night”and “Silent Night”.  Again, this album is rather short but this is definitely one I will go to when I tire of the same old yuletide fare.

Wow Christmas 2011

Wow is essentially Christian music’s annual greatest hits compilations.  This is the first one in many years dedicated to Christmas releases.  This double-length compilation contains many of the artists mentioned here and is a great way to sample songs.  Some of the other  highlights include the Newsboys with “Jingle Bell Rock”,  Audrey Assad’s “ Winter Snow”, Third Day’s “Born in Bethlehem”, Tenth Avenue North’s “Deck the Hall”,  and Chris Tomlin’s “Emmanuel”.  There is not a weak song among the group.  Definitely a worthy addition to the Wow family of compilation CDs.