Truthfully, this is something of a slow year, for CCM Christmas albums, at least in terms of quantity. Hopefully though, what the industry is lacking in quantity, it has made up for in quality.
Here are 5 of this year’s new Christmas albums, in no particular order, worthy of your attention…
Carolyn Arends, “Christmas: Story of Stories”
I think it’s extremely telling that Carolyn was able to more than double her $11, 000 goal, on Kickstarter, this past spring. She clearly has a lot of fans, and for very good reason. “Story of Stories” is what you would hope for, from a Carolyn Arends Christmas album; winsome, clever, thoughtful, acoustic. If you like your Christmas music with a gentle touch, “Story of Stories” is for you.
Rend Collective, “Campfire Christmas: Volume 1”
This one has been touted as 2014’s “surprise” Christmas CD, since it didn’t appear on any of the album release schedules leading into the fall. What a great surprise! The album cover is a riot, and how could anyone not love songs like “Ding Dong Merrily On High (The Celebration’s Starting)”?! Simply put, if you’ve liked Rend Collective’s albums, in the past, you won’t be disappointed here. Promise. It’s extremely fun, and just the right mix of originals and classics.
1 Girl Nation, “A Very 1 Girl Nation Christmas EP”
I think 1 Girl Nation fills an important niche in CCM right now (that of the tween girl market). The production work is tight, on this EP, and the song arrangements are, to be completely frank, not as predictable as I was expecting them to be. Overall, it’s a reasonably solid EP, and I have to give them specific props for not ruining “Let It Go”, from “Frozen”, even though the original is still slightly better. It was a pretty gutsy move, to cover such a popular (and recent!) song, but they pull it off nicely.
Michael W. Smith, “Michael W. Smith & Friends: The Spirit of Christmas”
I’ll get right to the point by saying that, in my opinion, this is Michael’s best album of the past 10 years. (It’s also his best Christmas album since 1989’s “Christmas”.) To say that Michael didn’t phone it in would be an understatement. His special guests include everyone from Little Big Town, to Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum, Bono, Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Michael McDonald, and Carrie Underwood. In fact, Carrie’s vocal performance, on “All Is Well”, makes it the “must hear” Christmas song of the year…wow! Michael seems content, on nearly all of these tracks, to let his special guests do most of the shining. When you combine these elements with his impeccable piano playing (and harmonizing) abilities, it makes for one great Christmas album.
Aaron Shust, “Unto Us”
Can I be completely honest? I haven’t been big on Aaron Shust’s music since, his 2006 hit, “My Savior My God”. For this reason, I was completely taken aback, by how much I truly loved “Unto Us”, from the very first note right to the very last. Aaron has teamed up with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and producer David Hamilton, to craft something truly timeless here. As I was listening, I couldn’t help but imagine these songs being used, as the soundtrack for an epic stage re-enactment of the Christmas story. The originals are stellar, the covers are fresh, and there isn’t a weak (or even weak-“ish”) track on the entire album. If you like your Christmas music BIG, like I do, don’t pass this one up!
Christmas 2014 also features full length offerings from the likes of Kim Walker-Smith, Peter Furler, & Laura Story, as well as EP’s from Chris August, and more. I don’t have space to cover them all but, suffice it to say, there really is something for everyone, in the family, despite the aforementioned fact that it’s a bit of a slow year generally. Go grab yourself a new favourite Christmas album and, most importantly, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!