Looking for some music to get you in the Christmas spirit? Look no further. Here are nine good choices for a soundtrack to the season.
Matthew West – The Heart of Christmas
Matthew West’s The Heart of Christmas feels in some ways like a follow-up to the emotions and individual reflections offered in his most recent studio release The Story of Your Life. Playful originals like “Come On, Christmas” and “Day After Christmas” capture a childlike enthusiasm for the holiday, while “One Last Christmas” deals with loss (and has become a full-length movie on GMC). A highlight is “Leaving Heaven”, featuring Vince Gill, which imagines Christ’s first-person motivation for the incarnation.
Hillsong – Born is the King
When I heard about this project, I was quite curious about what a Hillsong Christmas album would sound like. I think I expected songs like “O Come Let Us Adore Him”, a familiar chorus that’s given a strong rhythm line and room to breathe, but there’s a decidedly upbeat, celebratory nature to most of these tracks. “Born is the King (It’s Christmas)” is a joyous romp.
Kutless – This is Christmas
Familiar songs – “O Holy Night”, “Mary, Did You Know?”, “Breath of Heaven” – get the Kutless treatment on this 6-song set. The latter admittedly sounds a little odd voiced by a male, but the pair of originals is quite strong. If you want a little more electric guitar in your holiday listening, this is a good choice.
Hawk Nelson – Christmas
Hawk Nelson offers an EP of Christmas classics that picks up where Relient K’s Christmas album left off. Band member Jonathan Steingard produced and engineered this one. The band’s characteristic whimsy (“Yeah… wassail!”, and a moment in “Joy to the World” that will make Harry Potter fans laugh out loud) alternates with reverence, culminating in a lovely arrangement of “Silent Night”.
Jadon Lavik – Christmas
Joining Hawk Nelson in the less-than-imaginative album titles club, Lavik offers a gentle acoustic pop set with a hint of blues guitar. “Christmas Time is Here”, the song from the Charlie Brown special, features a soulful sax counterpoint to the piano melody. And you can practically feel the tropical breezes on Lavik’s delightful version of “Mele Kalikimaka”.
TobyMac – Christmas in Diverse City
Book my flight to Diverse City this year. They’re having quite a Christmas party. This is a fun dose of hip hop, loaded with a great combination of classics and originals. I love the inclusion of the Harry Belafonte classic “Mary’s Boy Child”, a great vehicle for another TobyMac/Jamie Grace pairing. Other contributors include Leigh Nash, Owl City, and Superherose, and longtime band members front several songs. Also, TobyMac thankfully bucks this year’s trend of short 3-to-8-song EPs/albums with this full length 13-song offering.
Jamie Grace – Christmas Together
Not content with her appearance on Toby’s album, Jamie Grace offers her own 4-song EP. It’s like a spin-off show. It’s “Wolverine”. Or maybe “Joanie Loves Chachi”. But I digress. Christmas Together is a fun little set, led off by Grace’s original title track, a warm ode to the family time that highlights the season. Here’s a great lyric: “Unless you got twenty people stuck in an elevator I can’t imagine a time when we’re all this close.”
David Crowder*Band – Oh For Joy
Here’s how Crowder tells the story: the band decided to make their final album in January, but then booked a tour at the same time. They figured they could multitask – Crowder reasons that “Switchfoot puts out six or seven albums while they’re on tour” – but the product of that multitasking was “accidentally” a Christmas album. There are no originals, and the most recent track is a scorching live version of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo (12/24)”, made famous by Trans Siberian Orchestra in 1996. Nonetheless, the Crowder take on these classics is original, and sometimes quite unexpected. ”Silent Night” wakes up, and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” gets quiet. In fact, the latter is an understated but strangely effective gospel-meets-trance version that I can’t get out of my head.
Jars of Clay – More Christmas Songs EP
A companion to the band’s 2007 full length Christmas Songs, this 3-song EP captures the band that was known from its earliest days for a tune from the season, “The Little Drummer Boy”. This one is a painfully few songs, but they’re noteworthy selections. I know “Someday at Christmas” from the Jackson 5 and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from Darlene Love and then U2, but I love what Jars has done with them.
Happy listening, and Merry Christmas!