Whether you’re wrapping presents, trimming the tree, sharing a family dinner, or simply preparing your heart for the celebration of Christ’s birth, holiday activities just wouldn’t be the same without Christmas music. If you’re looking for some new holiday music to help you celebrate the season, you’ve come to the right place! Following is a list of new Christmas albums this year, and as you can see, there’s something for everyone. As always, click on the album image to instantly find it at Musicforce. Read on for great gift ideas — for others or for yourself!

(A little disclaimer: Not all these review titles are mine! You have been warned … )

Jaci Velasquez | Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir | Mannheim SteamrollerHappy Christmas Vol. 3 | NewSong | Hillsong Music AustraliaYour King Has Come | Christmas in Havana

Timeless and Traditional

ChristmasJaci Velasquez (Word / Epic)

Available in both English and Spanish, Jaci’s first Christmas album is a traditional sounding blend of Christmas carols, holiday favorites, and three brand-new songs. It begins with a beautifully ambient and haunting rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that’s reminiscent of an arrangement Margaret Becker did some years ago. One of the new songs “Season of Love,” a duet with fellow Word artist Pete Orta, has a pleasant but typical Christian holiday pop feel. And of course, “Feliz Navidad” is a fun and up-tempo Latin pop arrangement, faithful to the original. My advance copy didn’t include the playful rendition of “The Chipmunk Song,” though I’m told it’s also a fun track.

The rest of the album is a mixture of soft jazz and lush pop. Songs such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The First Noel” are exactly what you’d expect from a pop-orchestral arrangement – beautiful strings, a little bit of holiday ambiance, and Jaci’s dynamic vocals. Likewise, “Let It Snow” fits the big band jazz mold that you’ve heard so many times before. Of the other two new songs, Chris Eaton’s “The Angel Song” is a gorgeous follow-up to his classic “Breath of Heaven” (which Amy Grant made famous), and the romantic piano ballad “It Wouldn’t Be Christmas,” written by Scott Krippayne, sounds like his signature style of pop songwriting. The latter nicely shifts into a Vince Guaraldi Trio-styled ending (i.e. Charlie Brown). I suppose some Christian listeners may be disappointed by Christmas since the song selection generally favors secular holiday favorites over the traditional hymns. Those looking for innovation aren’t going to be satisfied either, since Jaci and producer Chris Harris follow the Christmas pop album playbook word for word. But let’s be honest – you’d be lucky to find one new innovative Christmas album in a given year. Jaci Velasquez’s Christmas is a beautifully crafted album with a timeless holiday sound that both young and old can appreciate.

“Sing Choirs of Angels … “

Light of the World Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (M2)

This year’s big choral release comes from the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, a multi-cultural 275-member choir from inner-city New York under the direction of Carol Cymbala (whose husband, Jim, is the church’s pastor). Odds are you’ve sung a Cymbala arrangement at some point if you’ve ever been in a church or high school choir. Accompanied by a full orchestra and a small backing band, the Choir’s new Christmas release is reminiscent of what you’d hear on television from the Crystal Cathedral or a Christmas at the White House special. The music is a blend of gospel and easy-listening pop with large, spacious, and beautiful arrangements that cover both traditional and contemporary sounds. Carol has always done great work with her pop choral arrangements, and Light of the World is no exception with its selection of traditional carols, show-stopper medleys, and brand-new Christmas pieces. If your church is up to the task, there are great arrangements to glean from this album for your choir. If not, sit back and enjoy the show. Of all of this year’s new holiday albums, Light of the World instantly put me in the Christmas spirit, probably because it reminds me the most of my church.

Rolling Out More Holiday Favorites

Christmas Extraordinaire Mannheim Steamroller (American Grammaphone / Sparrow)

For nearly twenty years now, Mannheim Steamroller has become a name almost synonymous with Christmas music. The group’s founder, composer and musician Chip Davis, has released several projects for years under the Steamroller name, but it’s the three Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums that have made them the best-selling Christmas artist of all time. Which brings us to Christmas Extraordinaire, the fourth Christmas venture from the pop-instrumental group and the first of their albums to receive distribution in the Christian music market via Sparrow Records. In a nutshell (or should that be chestnut-shell?), the new Christmas album is more of the same, with more rhythmic synth-pop-orchestral arrangements of Christmas favorites such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, “Away In a Manger,” and Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus (which sounds a lot like Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” here). The ending of “White Christmas” sounds gorgeous with its ’40s-styled female chorus and harpsichord; the rhythmic interpretation of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Faeries” from The Nutcracker is fun; and I like the way “The First Noel” winds down as if you’re listening to a music box.

The Steamroller even breaks a bit from tradition with “O Tannenbaum” by featuring a well-known vocalist for the first time, in this case Johnny Mathis with the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and a small women’s chorus. The results aren’t quite as spectacular as you’d think. The earlier Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums were truly original for their time, but ultimately they don’t stray very far from the dated ’80s synthesizer sounds or Chip Davis’ love of Renaissance music. You’d think that as a composer, he’d want to challenge himself and tread new musical territory. On the other hand, why fix what isn’t broken? Fans will still buy this by the millions, and you’ll enjoy having this in the background for your Christmas activities.

Not So Silent Night

Happy Christmas Vol. 3 Various Artists (BEC)

(Note: My apologies to BEC and the fans! I’ve had to re-write this one because I was only sent a 10-song pre-release of the album — I didn’t know it wasn’t a complete copy.) BEC’s Happy Christmas series features a variety of today’s popular Christian alternative rock artists performing Christmas songs that range from sacred to secular, classics to originals, and serious to silly. Far and away the best track on Volume 3 comes from Earthsuit, with their perfect rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” in which they nail the classic keyboard sounds while modernizing it with drums and a new middle section. Starflyer 59 incorporates its usual dreamy, ethereal pop sound to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and the result is bizarre, beautiful, and haunting. Blink 182 fans will enjoy Hangnail’s rock version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” as well as Relient K’s immensely silly “Santa Claus Is Thumbing to Town.”

Unfortunately, Cadet’s “The First Noel” and Bleach‘s “What We Call Christmas” are somewhat mundane and straightforward alternative pop. Kendall Payne‘s dark interpretation of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is marred by bad production (particularly the klaxon alarm at the end that sounds like something from a submarine). Joy Electric fans can say what they want, but the synth pop group’s rendition of “Mrs. Santa Claus” sounds like every other Christmas contribution they’ve made to the previous Happy Christmas projects. Originally, I thought that the album’s closer by Matthew Thiessen & the Earthquakes (aka Relient K) was too depressing. They do a great Ben Folds Five impression on the melancholic “I Hate Christmas Parties,” but its portrait of a broken heart at Christmas ironically became my theme song this year. I suspect the teens for whom this album is aimed will appreciate this album’s angst and honesty too. Although I prefer the first two volumes (and despite that last song’s title), Happy Christmas Vol. 3 is still a pretty good album for any teen / college-age Christmas party.

Something Old, Something New

The Christmas ShoesNewSong (Reunion)

Alright, I admit it. Call me a Grinch or Scrooge, but I didn’t care much for the song “The Christmas Shoes” a year ago, and I still think it’s overly schmaltzy today. But what do I know? The song shot straight to the top of the Billboard Adult Contemporary radio chart, so thousands of other people must really enjoy it. Forget I mentioned it and let’s instead focus on the other 11 tracks on NewSong’s first Christmas album, named after their popular hit single. Since NewSong’s strengths have always been in their smart arrangements and flawless pop production, they’re perfectly suited for a Christmas album. After all, Christmas albums are less favored for their originality than their execution, and NewSong pulls off a near-perfect Christmas pop album, blending lush orchestral arrangements with impressive power pop.

You can’t help but be impressed with the incredible harmonies on the Charlie Brown Christmas classic, “Christmas Time Is Here,” which melds effortlessly into a jazz-pop version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Their bouncy pop arrangement of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is infectious with its horns and thick drum sounds. The cover of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is a real hoot, as bombastic and campy a song as Queen ever was. I never would have figured “Away In a Manger” could be used in conjunction with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” because they’re so different sounding (one is like a lullaby, the other a dark English carol) — but sure enough, NewSong pulls it off in an amazing pop arrangement. The group also gives admirable power-pop performances of “The First Noel,” “What Child Is This?,” and “O Holy Night,” the latter featuring an impressive vocal performance from Michael O’Brien. NewSong applies the same glossy pop sounds to their original songs, such as “Sing Noel” and a remake of their 1990 favorite “Light Your World,” making them quite memorable well after the CD player has turned off. Because of the vocals, production, and original arrangements, I’d have to say NewSong has delivered one of my favorite Christmas albums of 2001. Are there any flaws on it? Well yes, there’s this song called “The Christmas Shoes” …

Outback in a Manger

Jesus Christmas Worship Down Under Hillsong Music Australia (Hillsong / Integrity)

So many churches do such wonderful work with their Christmas worship services, it makes me wonder what Christmas is like at some of the church giants around the world, such as Hillsong Church in Australia, home to Darlene Zschech and the Hillsong worship team. Jesus Christmas Worship Down Under (what a title!) is a studio recording that gives a glimpse of an answer, offering a mix of straightforward arrangements of classic Christmas carols and originals written by the members of Hillsong. Surprisingly, few of the songs have the same power and energy Darlene Zschech and company usually exhibit in their recordings. Instead, the album is filled with the usual soft, programmed pop you’d expect from artists such as Avalon and Point of Grace. There are no musicians (according to the credits), only vocalists singing to pretty, programmed music on a computer.

Almost all of the songs have a slow, easy-listening feel — only the disco-like “Rejoice” and the up-tempo pop of “Glory to God” break up the monotony of the 12 other slow ballads. I did like the majestic and rhythmic treatment of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” with its clever marriage to the worshipful “Jesus You Are All I Live For.” Indeed, some will profess this to be a “more worshipful” Christmas album than most, based on the artists involved. I’d argue that most all Christmas carols are worshipful, and that some of these new songs aren’t worship. For example, the gentle “Perfect Love (Mary’s Song)” is written from Mary’s perspective at Jesus’ birth, but its not a song a man can use to worship God. It might have been better if they’d done a live recording of their Christmas celebration with a live band and orchestra (assuming that’s what they usually do at Hillsong). Still, fans of Christian pop will enjoy this, and the song arrangements (both originals and carols) are simple enough to translate into your church’s Christmas services.

Coffee Shop Christmas

Your King Has Come Various (detuned)

If you enjoy the “alternative folk pop” of artists such as Bebo Norman and Caedmon’s Call (or Sarah McLachlan, James Taylor, and Bob Dylan for that matter), then you’ll love this Christmas release from 2000. The album is receiving wider distribution this year, so you should be able to find it in most Christian retail stores. (Unfortunately, Musicforce.com still isn’t selling it, but you can find it at grassrootsmusic.com and yourkinghascome.com.) Most of the artists on Your King Has Come are independent and unsigned, but even if most of the names are unfamiliar, the quality of the performances is great. Many of the songs are straightforward acoustic arrangements of the best Christmas hymns, such as “What Child Is This?” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

You’ll also find a few familiar names in the line-up, such as Jill Phillips, who sings a beautiful and soft acoustic version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Sandra McCracken joins her husband, Derek Webb (Caedmon’s Call), for a new version of “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” adapting a new tune to classic lyrics as she did on the recent Caedmon’s Call worship project. Andrew Osenga (The Normals) contributes a Dylan-esque version of the old hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” that’s bluesy, haunting, and beautiful — I think it’s the best of the most commonly overlooked Christmas hymns of the church. The album closes with a wonderfully ambient cover of “O Holy Night” by Matthew Perryman Jones — very simple, yet very powerful. This may not be a groundbreaking album, but I enjoyed Your King Has Come for its gentle rawness and simplicity. It’s quiet, contemplative, and very much focused on Christ and the poetry of the old hymns that so beautifully illustrate the wonder of that night 2,000 years ago.

Havana Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Christmas in Havana Various Artists (One Voice)

Looking to add some spice to your Christmas? Christmas In Havana assembles many of the Latin music world’s top instrumentalists to create an authentic Cuban recording of traditional and inspirational holiday favorites. Note that this isn’t an album capitalizing on Latin pop sensations such as Ricky Martin or Enrique Inglesias. Instead, this is an album for fans of classic Latin jazz artists, such as Tito Puente. The music is completely instrumental, almost always featuring a horn section backed with bass, piano, and a strong percussion section. Only a few of the songs, such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” feature guitar. It’s fun to hear the Latin-ized versions of holiday favorites, but there are a few, such as “Burrito Sabanero” and “En El Portal de Belen,” that will only be recognizable to those seriously into Latin music. Because they’re instrumental and unfamiliar, many will wonder if they’re really Christmas songs. Also, a lot of the music is homogenous and repetitive after a while, often breaking into improvisational jazz sections that may bore the average listener. On the other hand, the album is reasonably priced at $9.97, and it’s not every day you hear Christmas music with a Latin influence. I recommend it to fans of the genre.

Even more new Christmas music on Page 2!

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Chris Rice | Fred Hammond | Michael McDonaldStacie Orrico | Anne Murray | Go FishNoel: 11 Elegant Christmas Classics | Vicki Yohe

The 88 Keys of Christmas

The Living Room Sessions: ChristmasChris Rice (Rocketown)

The award for prolific artist of the year has got to go to Chris Rice, who’s released three albums within one year’s time. Last April Chris debuted a new series entitled The Living Room Sessions, so named because Chris simply records himself at home noodling on his piano. Following in the footsteps of the first album in the series, which contained 12 beloved hymns, this one explores (appropriately) 12 classic Christmas carols, as well as an instrumental version of Chris’s carol-like classic “Welcome to Our World.” Some will undoubtedly find an album of instrumental piano pieces nothing special or exciting. However, I like how Chris understates his piano arrangements; they’re simple, subtle, and thoughtful rather than showy and overwhelming. The tracks are short (the entire album’s only 37 minutes long), and the arrangements are generally less innovative and more simplistic than those on the first Living Room Sessions album. Still, pianists will appreciate the beautiful variations of well-known favorites as well as Chris’s technical proficiency. Plus, the intimacy of the solo piano lends itself well to the familiarity of the carols. This one’s great for background music during tree trimming and present opening, or quiet Christmas reflection in front of the fire with loved ones.

Radical For Christmas

Just Remember Fred Hammond (Verity)

Reputed producer and musician Fred Hammond hardly needs an introduction, since he’s been one of the key artists who’s helped reshape the sound of gospel music in the last ten years. Those familiar with his past work with Commissioned and Radical For Christ can’t help but get excited at the idea of Fred doing a Christmas project. Which is why I’m just a tad disappointed with Just Remember, since most of the 12 album cuts have the exact same smooth rhythm-and-blues/gospel feel to them. The songs on Just Remember range from covers of Christian pop and gospel favorites (such as “Christmas Everyday” and 4Him’s “A Strange Way to Save the World”) to originals by Fred (such as “God Has Been Good” and “We Sing Glory,” a worship song that focuses on the miracle of the Word made flesh). However, they all feel like variations of the same style. Though the album is surprisingly homogenous, there are certainly some standout tracks. “Just Remember” cleverly blends the melody of “Carol of the Bells” with new lyrics and smooth jazz. And Fred’s soulful half-time gospel cover of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” demonstrates his artistry as a producer and an arranger. If only Fred had varied the album’s sound beyond the steady beat of the opener, “His Name Is Jesus,” and the hip-hop/gospel shuffle of the closing song, “He Is the Reason.” The guest appearance by Radical For Christ on “Go Gabriel” is too little too late, and it might have been a good idea to introduce other gospel artists as he did on his In Case You Missed It project earlier this year. Despite the repetitive sound, I consider Just Remember one of the better Christmas albums this year and appreciate its originality and quality production. Check it out if you’d like to celebrate the season with a soulful blend of R&B, gospel, and pop.

“What a Fool Believes”

In the Spirit Michael McDonald (MCA / Provident)

Yes music lovers, it’s that Michael McDonald — the legendary singer/songwriter known for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers in the ’70s (including the hit song used as our title above), as well as his solo career in the ’80s. Apparently Mr. McDonald is a believer, first expressing his faith musically on 1999’s Streams project, on which he sang Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” with Maire Brennan. Are you skeptical that Michael’s foray into Christian music was a one-time incident? Well, besides thanking his pastor and “everyone who seeks to understand God’s love for us” in the album’s liner notes, In the Spirit is filled with original songs (most of them co-written by Michael) that communicate the Christmas message as well as any other Christian artist, if not better. Many of Michael’s songs feature the same signature jazz/blues pop sound he’s known for, including “To Make a Miracle,” which explores the mysterious miracle of how one child can save all of mankind. Michael re-teams with his friend James Ingram (from their hit single, “Yah Mo B There”) for their new song “One Gift,” a song that rightfully points out that money and presents don’t stand the test of time, unlike the eternal gift from God to all mankind.

There are several other originals, but my favorite is “Peace,” co-written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, a gorgeous and gut-wrenching ballad in the vein of Rich Mullins’s “Hold Me Jesus.” It’s a surprisingly confessional song that only relates to Christmas in that Michael prays to the “Wondrous Child of whom the angels sing.” As for covers, the album begins with a wonderfully simple and acoustic version of “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and there’s an exciting jazz/blues medley of “White Christmas / Winter Wonderland” that features popular blues guitar sensation Jonny Lang. Also, be sure to check out the absolutely ripping gospel track, “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” which is like a cross between the works of Kirk Franklin and Billy Joel. Because of the abundance of new songs and Michael’s generally bluesy and jazzy pop sound, this isn’t a particularly Christmas-sounding album — it’s the lyrical content that qualifies it as holiday music. But, as the title implies, this album is “in the spirit” of a Christmas album, and I love it for its artistic excellence and originality. In the Spirit is a Christmas album that nails the meaning of Christmas without dipping into cliché or becoming overly sentimental. I highly recommend it to classic pop/rock enthusiasts, as well as to fans of blue-eyed-soul pop by artists such as Bryan Duncan and Bob Carlisle.

Christmas Baby One More Time

Christmas WishStacie Orrico (Forefront)

I was a little nervous about this one at first, since 15-year-old Stacie Orrico has only one album to her credit. Do people really want to buy a Christmas album from her already? Fear not … this is a reasonably priced six-song EP that’s probably an attempt to make a Christmas album for the teen crowd, just as label-mate Rebecca St. James did four years ago. That particular album worked for me because Rebecca’s ethereal-pop sound created a gentle and magical Christmas atmosphere. Stacie soulfully warbles like Christina Aguilera on Christmas carols including “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Under her voice, there’s not much of interest among the standard programmed pop beats. To be honest, most of the mini-album didn’t put me in the Christmas spirit. Additionally, the two new songs (“Love Came Down” and the title track) are pleasant, but predictable Christmas pop. Traditionalists may have a hard time swallowing the electric groove of “What Child Is This?” but will appreciate the beautiful cover of “White Christmas” (produced by Michael W. Smith). This, the disc’s last track, finally brought some Yuletide spirit to my ears. Regardless, fans of Stacie’s brand of R&B-flavored teen pop will eat this up. The younger crowd will probably enjoy Christmas Wish because it’s targeted to their tastes … and easy on their wallet.

Murray Christmas to All!

What a Wonderful Christmas Anne Murray (Straightway / Sparrow)

This year’s award for most comprehensive Christmas album goes to Anne Murray’s new Christmas collection, What a Wonderful Christmas, which features a whopping 32 Christmas classics on 2 discs. As far as I can tell, there’s nary an original song on the collection, which makes this almost as traditional as you can get. There simply isn’t enough space to cover all of the tracks on this album, nor is there much need to. Anne’s musical style ranges from light, easy-listening pop to orchestral arrangements, usually opting for a blend of the two on most of the tracks. Acoustic guitars and simple percussion are just as important to the mix as the occasional atmospheric touches provided by the London Symphony Orchestra. Anne hits on everything from sacred (“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”), to secular (“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The Christmas Song”), and everything in between (“Little Drummer Boy,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?”). There are even some songs for children (“The Santa Medley,” “Rudolph / Frosty Medley”) and some lesser-known favorites (“Christmas in Kilarney,” “Christmas Wishes,” “Mary’s Boy Child”). Aside from the collection’s size, this is exactly what you’d expect of a Christmas album from Anne Murray, so there are no surprises or stumbles here. What a Wonderful Christmas is a traditional-sounding holiday album, but its repetitive easy-listening sound keeps it from being a truly timeless Christmas recording. Parents and grandparents should find it very appealing.

Hooked on Holiday Harmonies

More Than a Story Go Fish (Inpop)

A cappella group Go Fish is hoping 2001 will be their breakthrough year, thanks to the one-two punch of their Inpop national debut, Infectious, last summer and now this re-release of their 1999 Christmas recording. One might be tempted to think More Than a Story is merely an album filled with a cappella renditions of classic Christmas carols … and one would be greatly mistaken to think so. What surprised me about this disc is how much Go Fish was willing to experiment with the familiar songs and make them fun and clever (two key ingredients in modern a cappella music). In fact, Go Fish’s arrangement style is such that you’ll forget you’re only listening to voices and a drum machine — the bass sounds more like an instrument than a vocalist, and those not singing the solo are eager to accompany rather than share the spotlight. Some of the songs are straight rhythmic pop interpretations of well-known Christmas songs, such as “O Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” (which sounds cool, despite their forced attempt to mimic dc Talk). Other arrangements keep the lyrics but alter the melody, such as the soulful version of “Silent Night,” the N’Sync-sounding “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” and the ’50s doo-wop styled “Away In a Manger.” Go Fish also pulls off some less conventional covers, such as Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know,” the jazzy camp of “Grinch Song,” and most surprising of all, Bob Dylan’s “I Believe In You.” The drum machine is occasionally a little amateur sounding, though it’s almost as often very impressive, and the vocal production is excellent. More Than a Story easily could have been a routine and simplistic Christmas recording, but Go Fish clearly put some thought, effort, and heart into it … not to mention a lot of fun. All ages can enjoy Go Fish’s sound, but fans of boy band pop will especially enjoy this.

Easy Like Christmas Morning

Noel: 11 Elegant Christmas Classics Various Artists (M2)

Sometimes its best to keep it simple with Christmas music, and that’s basically what Noel strives to do. This is a collection of Christmas favorites done in an easy-listening, inspirational pop style by several of the top studio musicians in Nashville. Since there are no big-name artists on Noel, the focus shifts to the album’s sound and arrangements, which are very straightforward and light. The album is a hodge-podge of Christmas carols and popular Christian pop favorites such as “Breath of Heaven” and “Emmanuel” (both made famous by Amy Grant), as well as Michael W. Smith‘s “Gloria.” Though the keyboards and drum programming are occasionally amateur sounding, the overall style is light and simplistic. It’s certainly not a badly performed album, but it’s not a top-notch production either. Noel is actually very similar sounding to this year’s Hillsong Christmas album with Darlene Zschech and company, though almost all of that album is programmed, whereas only some of this one is. There isn’t enough to the album for me to highly recommend Noel, but it’s a pleasant enough Christmas collection for fans of light Christian pop.

“Hark the Herald Angel Sings … “

Christmas Presence Vicki Yohe (Aluminum / Audio X)

All right, maybe you don’t like puns, but I dig this title — it speaks volumes. This is a re-release of Vicki’s Christmas album, originally released on Audio X. Interestingly enough, her new Aluminum Records label-mate Paul Alan contributes the title track to Vicki’s Christmas album. For the most part, Christmas Presence is your typical inspirational Christian pop recording, but for every clichéd inspirational arrangement on the album, there’s also a beautiful and powerful pop arrangement. Vicki’s voice is consistently stunning (coming close to the power of Celine Dion or Barbara Streisand), and there are some very well-performed guitar and saxophone solos sprinkled throughout. Half of the album is comprised of straightforward pop covers of old favorites — “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” (which starts off with a wonderful solo guitar rendition of “The Christmas Song”). The other half features originals and lesser-known Christmas songs, such as Bill Gaither’s “What Did You Say Was the Baby’s Name?” and the show-stopping pop of “No Room,” a song I can’t believe I’ve never heard since its 1978 copyright. Vicki shows strong vocal prowess on the traditional gospel favorite “Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child.” In the end, Christmas Presence is a well done Christmas album that doesn’t quite stand out since it pushes so many familiar buttons. We’ve heard numerous other Christian artists such as Sandi Patty and Amy Grant do the same type of music for years. You’ll probably go into this album looking forward to the familiar favorites, and come away remembering it more for lesser-known Christmas songs. Because of that sense of originality, Vicki Yohe earns high marks for her Christmas project. It’s not quite as timeless as Jaci Velasquez‘s Christmas album in sound, but fans of inspirational Christian pop will enjoy it. Currently the album is unavailable through Musicforce, but you can pick up a copy at Vicki’s official Web site or a local Christian bookstore.

Back to page 1 of the 2001 Christmas Music Wrap-Up. Still looking for more? Click here to see Christmas music releases from 2000.

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