See if this describes you. Each Christmas season, you go in search of new Christmas CD's and downloads from your favorite Christian artists. But soon you're overcome with mixed feelings. Will this new album be fresh, inspiring, heart-warming; transporting you into the Christmas spirit? Or will it be empty, thoughtless, slapped together clichÃ©s – like that tie you got last year from Uncle Ernie that you KNOW he got from the clearance rack? If you can relate to these feelings, then you can understand how I feel beginning the review for The Essential Christmas Collection, a new release of Christmas music from Provident Records. The holiday's sacred underpinning demands that these recordings be special. But, what has NOT been done with Christmas music?
The Essential Christmas Collection brings a broad variety of styles and talent onto one holiday CD. Some of these tracks have been released in years past, with about 1/3 of the CD actually being NEW; so keep that in mind when considering your purchase. Now, with such a vast assortment of styles and talent on tap, some tracks are instantly endearing, while others take some enduring to get through.
High points for the CD are the ethereal and compelling "The First Noel" by Revive, the sweet and poignant "Silent Night" by Matt Maher, the rockin' "What Child is This?" by Building 429, and the haunting minor-keyed "Do You Hear What I Hear?" from Anthem Lights. Each of these tracks breathes new life to these classic Christmas favorites and invites you to listen again and again. And even though "All Is Well" by Michael W Smith is not a new release, it still gives me chills every time I hear it.
The "Powerful Christmas Song Award" goes to Brandon Heath and his composers for "The Night Before Christmas". It's a thoughtful and scripturally rich composition that paints a comprehensive picture of what kind of world the Savior would enter into – yet that world would have no idea of the significance of this magnificent birth.
On the other end of the spectrum, "Go Tell it on the Mountain" by Tenth Avenue North is a disappointment; considering the caliber of talent of its performers. There is a conspicuous absence of musical substance on this track, like it was an afterthought the group had to bang out while in the studio. The song was actually wearying to listen to. Another song that sits on the fence is "O Holy Night" by Kerrie Roberts. On paper, Roberts' powerful vocals mated to this majestic Christmas classic sounds like a perfect match, but the performance has a bit too much "Mariah Carey" in it for these ears. However, if for you, Kerrie's power pop vocals can do no wrong, you'll like this track. Rebecca St. James' rendition of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was vocally forgettable as well.
On balance, The Essential Christmas Collection, although perhaps not aptly named, is still a very good addition to your Christmas music collection this season. The new releases, together with the older favorites, are reason enough to buy the whole CD.