This year saw an influx of Christmas music. Here are all the ones of note.
Joy: An Irish Christmas
Keith & Kristyn Getty
Best known for their 19th century classic hymnwriting style and blended with the cadences and tones of Irish folk, the Gettys’ Joy is Getty-styled. Filled with Christmas hymns from the Church’s history and a few new ones co-written with Stuart Townend, Joy is a top pick for both personal and congregational worship.
More: While there is nothing new about Celtic Christmases and seasonal hymns, the Gettys blend the two for the purpose of worship with a beautiful result.
Less: Joy could have ventured even further into the realms of Irish folk with greater variety in instruments.
Oh for Joy
Less experimental than you might expect from DCB on a Christmas release, Oh for Joy is a traditional-melodic approach juxtaposed with the Crowder techno-noise-rock that we are accustomed to.
More: Fresh takes on familiar songs that make them fit the season as well as the youth room.
Less: When the David Crowder*Band does something, we want them to go all out or go home. The instrumental postlude is the most creative moment of the short release, but it feels like an afterthought instead of the driving creative force of the record (which is what it should have been).
Christmas Back to You
Kim Hill Music
Sticking to the folk-country-rock style, Hill’s earthy vocals burrow through the depths of our cherished hymns (and four new ones) to reveal the heart of the season. Christmas Back to You is rich, nuanced Christmas music with backbone and heart.
More: Hill is able to set playful moments next to ones with spiritual and emotional weight and have everything feel authentic.
Less: At 27 minutes, it’s too short.
Songs for Christmas
Evoking a mixture of such nonpareil artists as Andrew Bird and Rufus Wainwright, Wickham’s vocal style was created for Christmas. His voice is the instrument here that makes the rest of them insignificant. Yet we still get guitars, keys, angelic-sounding choirs, even a banjo sprinkled in for good measure.
More: Vocal originality that seems to drip with passion brought to the songs of Christmas, Wickham catches your emotions with every quiet turn of phrase convincing listeners that he truly believes what he sings.
Less: Only one Wickham original song here.
Superchick’s guitarist Dave Ghazarian plies a bit of mid-century-mod, jazz-swank to the tunes we grew up with. Wrapped up by a trio of musicians, Vintage Christmas is nostalgia and hope tied together in a mellow background-music package.
More: This inviting release will easily be the go-to for your neighborhood Christmas gathering.
Less: With only two hymns on the release (and one of those being an instrumental), Ghazarian missed real a shot at creating some unique Christmas worship.
Celebrated choral writer and director Mark Condon brings his skills to the story of Christ’s incarnation and gets our many thanks for doing what no one else has done this year: given us a choir and given us brass. It just doesn’t feel like a Christmas celebration unless we get horns involved, right?
More: More than a Christmas release, this is a high quality journey of worship that requires your attention and participation.
Less: The focus is more on power than intimacy, so you lose the quiet moments of reflection.
A Christmas Together II
A hodgepodge of SoCal artists throw their considerable talents into the mix and produce a unified, Yuletide folk-rock hidden gem. Though it won’t garner the most hype this year, A Christmas Together II is the gift you owe yourself.
More: A community of artists/worship leaders offering holiday hymns with a relaxed guitar drive and enough production diversity to keep listeners engaged.
Less: Just because we have to write something here, the “We Are the World” feeling on the opening collaborative track that opens ACT II feels a little silly. But it also makes the whole thing a little more endearing, so we’ll call it a wash.
The Heart of Christmas
With a mix of adult contemporary piano-pop and big band swing, West focuses our attention on relishing the nostalgia of the moment as well as getting real with the everyday heartaches of the season.
More: One of the most beautiful and well-produced Christmas releases this year.
Less: The surfacy approach at times slips closer to holiday inspirational tunes than clear celebrations of the world-defining incarnation.
Christmas in DiverseCity
The frontman for Christian pop-rap-rock has assembled a crack team of alt-carolers including Owl City, Leigh Nash, SUPERHEROSE, toddiefunk, and more. Together they keep things poppy, peppy, and packed with DiverCity.
More: Unassailable hooks and pop production, great for keeping the attention of the typical seventh grader. Plus, TobyMac is not ashamed; filled with joy and Jesus, Christmas in DiverseCity is unquestionably about the birth of the King of Kings.
Less: Walking the sonic line of pop-rock and seasonal joy, TobyMac slips pretty close to scoring a hit on Radio Disney.
This year, WOW stuffs our stocking with the likes of Casting Crowns, Stephen Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin, Natalie Grant, Amy Grant, Matt Maher—really a potpourri of this month’s Billboard Christian/Gospel chart.
More: Best bang for your buck if you want to cast the widest net this year.
Less: The discontinuity that comes with any WOW release, and the fact that there is no way you will like all the artists.
One. Silent. Night.
Jeromy Deibler and wife Jennifer create a nice combo of worship meeting “stay classy” Christmas songs. The songs “One Silent Night” and “Glorious Impossible” are the heartbeat of an otherwise pleasant release that FHH followers have been waiting for (the latter was released by Carl Cartee a few Christmases ago, and is still one of the best new congregational Christmas songs).
More: Extremely listenable with a beautiful vocal drive and flawless Christmas production touch.
Less: Gets a bit cliché in song choice.
A nice juxtaposition of classic-Christmas, jazz trio, mellow swing, guitar folk, piano-man-with-a-bit-of-indie-vibe sounds from a crooner in the same sonic camp as Matt Hires, Tyrone Wells, and Josh Wilson.
More: Skirts the edge of indie vibe and mainstream pop with a deft hand, making it a go-to in the car on the way to grandma’s house.
Less: Doesn’t set itself apart in creative approaches or song selection (except the addition of “Tennessee Christmas” which was a perfect move).
Here are this year’s Christmas EPs:
This Is Christmas
More: Power ballads meet the Christmas catalogue. And the addition of the classic “Breath of Heaven” was a great move.
Less: The most adult contemporary Kutless has ever sounded.
The Heart of Christmas
More: With an indie-unique, folk-guitar drive, this is the most original release this year. If you like Sufjan Stevens’ version of Christmas, this one’s for you.
Less: Missing hymns (only “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is covered), and it’s only an EP.
Christmas and Hymns
Mosaic Artistry Group
More: The song “When Love First Cried” is a wonderful addition to any Christmas collection.
Less: With the exception of that single, the raspy vocals seem to be a wrong fit for Christmas.
Hawk Nelson Christmas
More: Fans will get what they want from Hawk Nelson, punk-pop styled Christmas hymns with a couple of fun tunes including “The Wassail Song” where the guys take a certain relish in belting out the word “wassail.”
Less: Unvarying style (“Silent Night” is a nice touch though).
Born Is the King
More: On the organic side of the Christmas releases, here is a folky holiday blend with completely unique interpretations of well-known songs as well as two new ones.
Less: The female lead vocals (half the songs), though outstanding, stand in contrast to the EP’s indie-americana, quirky, Fleet-foxy style. As well, this CD is completely divorced from the style of their previous Christmas releases, so longtime followers, beware.