Seasonal albums offer varied approach to Christmas

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Few things warm the Christmas heart more than sharing hot cocoa and a blazing fire with friends, wearing a handcrafted sweater from someone you love, receiving a gift can of peppermint bark or sipping hot java on Christmas morning.

For fans of traditional hymns—and even those who aren't—there is also little that can stir the heart like the inspirational work of hymn writers and recording artists Keith and Kristyn Getty. When you add Christmas songs to the mix, as they did with their new album Joy—An Irish Christmas, well, that's even better than a Kinkade Christmas.

Boasting a collection of modern hymns, as well as traditional carols, reels and jigs native to their homeland, the Christmas album promises to be a favorite for years to come.     

"So much of what inspires us to write hymns actually finds its origin in carols even more than traditional hymns," Keith Getty said in a news release. "There is such enjoyment and excitement in celebrating the most improbable thing that is the incarnation of God on earth. In this season, bringing the Good News in the form of music is also an opportunity to offer a glimpse of what Christmas in Ireland is like for us."   

The celebration of the Christ child has special meaning for the Gettys this season with the arrival of their own baby, Eliza Joy, earlier this year.

"There has been a deepening in our understanding of Christmas since our daughter Eliza Joy was born earlier this year," Kristyn Getty states.  "We have been so struck by the vulnerability and helplessness of a little baby in a way that has grown our wonder in the humble coming of Christ," Kristyn Getty said. "And our own love for our child has brought a fresh understanding to all the relationships involved in the Gospel narrative: Mary's love for her Son, God's love for His Son and God's love for the world."

Produced by Grammy Award-winner Phil Naish, who has worked with Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace, the album features orchestral arrangements by renowned composer J.A.C. Redford, who worked on "Avatar" and "The Help." In addition to the musical contributions by the Gettys, the project features the Irish Film Orchestra; Anuna, Ireland's National Choir; and Fionan de Barra and Eileen Ivers of Broadway's "Riverdance."

The album touches on a range of international influences, including Eastern European, Basque and American bluegrass and includes the Getty co-penned hymns "Joy Has Dawned," "How Suddenly a Baby Cries," "Magnificat," "Jesus Joy of the Highest Heaven (A Children's Carol)," "Fullness of Grace" and "An Irish Christmas Blessing."

Rounding out the album are classical favorites "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "What Child Is This?" and "Joy to the World." The newly adapted hymn "O Savior of Our Fallen Race" and the Irish-influenced "Miss Eliza's Reel" "The Greengrass Reel," "Tom Innes Jig" and "Narnian Reel," round out the offerings. 

The album sells for $13.99 and is available at www.gettymusic.com.


Poets Christmas
The Smalltown Poets, who have released four albums since bursting onto the Christian music scene in 1997, have tweaked their sound for their first holiday album. In production since a year ago, the studio album "Smalltown Poets Christmas" released in early November.

The band co-produced the project with former Smalltown Poets drummer Matt Goldman (Underoath, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Copeland).  

To promote the new album, the band is spending much of December in the South and Midwest, joined on select dates by fellow bands Echoing Angels and Elishah.

During their career the group has had three No. 1 singles and a total of 10 Top Ten radio hits, garnering two Best Rock Gospel Grammy nominations, seven Dove Award nominations and a Billboard Music video award for the band.  

Grammy-nominated artist Matthew West debuts The Heart of Christmas, his first full-length Christmas project. The 12-song record features an equal mix of Christmas classics and original holiday tunes penned by West. Joining West on the album are Vince Gill on "Leaving Heaven," Amy Grant on "Give This Christmas Away" and Mandisa in "Christmas Makes Me Cry."

A highlight of the project is West's tune, "One Last Christmas" a musical narrative about 2-year-old leukemia patient Dax Locke, which inspired an original movie entitled "The Heart of Christmas," which premiers on GMCtv Dec. 4.

West, featured on this fall's Winter Jam tour, will also spend December on the road promoting his album with American Idol alum Mandisa.

The Heart of Christmas is available now for $9.99 wherever music is sold.


A gift for the eyes
Prolific singer-songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither are toasting this year's holiday season a little differently with "A Homecoming Christmas: Sensing the Wonders of the Season," a celebration of Christ's birth in words and pictures.

The 176-page hardcover book showcases stories, recipes, memories and photos, uniquely arranged in sections highlighting the five senses. And in true Gaither tradition, where performing usually includes their friends, the book offers contributions from their Homecoming crew.

In addition to material from best-selling author Calvin Miller, the volume includes contributions from Homecoming friends Mark Lowry, Jason Crabb, Russ and Tori Taff, The Isaacs, Guy Penrod, Janet Paschal, Jeff and Sheri Easter, David and Lori Phelps, Candy Christmas and The Hoppers. 

"Since that night more than two millennia ago that divided time itself into B.C. (before) and A.D. (after), those whose lives have been changed by this baby boy have created dozens of symbols and traditions in their effort to express an event both human and divine," Gloria Gaither shares in the book's introduction. "All the senses have been called into play by the deep longing to share the very personal experiences of a cosmic and eternal change-point."

The book retails for $19.99.


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