Christmas in the round: Several new releases emerge

Ring in the season with new Christmas releases from some of your favorite artists, like Diamond Rio's The Star Still Shines, Bebo Norman's Christmas from the Realms of Glory, Michael W. Smith's It's a Wonderful Christmas, and Mandisa's Christmas Joy EP.

Point of Grace is on tour this holiday as the women embark on their third annual 15-city Christmastime tour in support of their critically acclaimed project, Winter Wonderland. The tour launched Nov. 27 in Chicago and will run through Dec.15.

Skillet's Comatose has sold a quarter of a million units since releasing last fall, and to show their appreciation to fans, the band will release a special Comatose CD/DVD Deluxe Edition on Dec. 26, featuring a brand new studio track, five acoustic tracks, three music videos, a behind-the-scenes making of the album video, and wallpaper and ring tones.

Modesto, Calif.-based Worth Dying For recently signed an exclusive recording contract with Integrity Music Group. The five-member band has been part of Phenomenon Ministries, the youth ministry of Calvary Temple of Modesto, and is made up of Christy Johnson (lead vocals, a keytar synthesizer) and Sean Loche (lead vocals, bass), Nathan Parish (guitar), Micah Berteau (guitar) and Josh O'Haire (drums). The rock-infused worshippers will release their first national CD this spring. 

With more than 50 albums to his 30-year career, legendary guitarist and singer/songwriter Phil Keaggy recently released The Song Within, his debut instrumental project for Autumn Records. The new project is contemplative and soothing, a contemporary and yet timeless offering from one of the industry's most prolific and beloved artists.

The single "More Time," from Needtobreathe's latest album "The Heat," will be included both in the movie and on Atlantic Records' soundtrack for the new film "P.S. I Love You," starring Hillary Swank, Lisa Kudrow and Harry Connick Jr. The movie hits theaters Dec. 21. Another single from the album, "Streets of Gold," was used by ESPN for the November NASCAR Homestead-Miami Speedway race, including practice/qualifying coverage and the NASCAR Countdown show.

Family Force 5 recently partnered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to make a dream come true for one terminally ill fan. Paul, a 16-year-old with cystic fibrosis, and his band Heroes for Villains played several songs at Hollywood's Knitting Factory when they opened for Family Force 5 during the band's "Dance, Rawr, Dance" tour stop. Paul and his band mates were also able to hang out with Family Force 5 and learn more about the music industry.

Congratulations to Jaci Velasquez and husband Nic Gonzales, of the Latin band Salvador. The couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Zealand David Gonzales, on Nov. 3.

Alan Jackson's Precious Memories won the Inspirational Country Album of the Year and Josh Turner was selected as the Mainstream Country Artist of the Year at the 13th Annual Inspirational Country Music Award Show. The show was taped before a live audience on Nov. 4 and aired on several broadcast networks during the month of November. Other big winners included Del Way (Entertainer of the Year), Dennis Agajanian (Musician of the Year), Sonya Isaacs (Female Vocalist of the Year) and Tommy Brandt (Male Vocalist of the Year). San Diego's Mary James, Emerson Drive, Mike Manuel, Del Way, the Bellamy Brothers, Blue County, Brad Cotter, CrossCountry, Corey Brooks, Sharene Spielman and Branded all performed their inspirational songs on the show.

Jarrell McCracken, founder of Word Entertainment, passed away in November. McCracken founded Word Inc. in 1951 in Waco as a Christian music company. Since then, Word has grown into one of the world's largest Christian entertainment companies, with a label group and music publishing, distribution and church resource divisions, and has featured such world-renowned artists as Amy Grant, Sandi Patti and George Beverly Shea, composers Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael, and authors Billy Graham and James Dobson. McCracken sold part interest to American Broadcasting Co. in 1974, and remained president of the company until 1986.

Vocal foursome Avalon has welcomed new member Jeremi Richardson to the group. He has traveled all over the United States, Jamaica, Bermuda and Israel singing and leading worship, and his voice can be heard on numerous recordings by Tribe Studios, Jeff Arthur Productions, WiseGuys Productions, Walt Disney Studios, Word Music, Brentwood-Benson, SpiritSound Music, and Integrity Music. Originally from Cleveland, Tenn., Richardson and his wife, Amy, currently reside in Orlando, where he is a member of the Disney groups Voices of Liberty and Four for a Dollar. Richardson joins Avalon in time for the release of the group's ninth studio album, "Another Time, Another Place: Timeless Christian Classics," in February.

The Winter Jam Tour Spectacular, Christian music's largest annual musical tour, once again showcases musical styles ranging from worship to rock to pop featuring multi-Platinum selling MercyMe, sibling rock trio BarlowGirl, seasoned rockers Skillet, American Idol's Mandisa and special guest speaker Tony Nolan and the Xtreme sports Real Encounter BMX/Skate Team. The 10-week tour launches Jan. 10 in Johnson City, Tenn., and will conclude at the Sommet Center in Nashville on March 16, hitting 19 states along the way. 

Entertainment notes compiled from artist interviews and press releases.