As it turns out, there have been some pretty good Christmas albums recorded since Amy Grant. Here are a few of my favorites that have come out in the last few years.
- Third Day – Christmas Offerings. One of the best. Adding to their great Offerings series, Third Day recorded a classic. This is one of the first CDs that makes it into my stereo when December rolls around.
- Lincoln Brewster – Joy to the World. New this year, I added it to my collection after one listen. Lincoln sets fire to traditional carols with his usual 80’s-inspired electric guitar. Joyful indeed.
- Future of Forestry – Advent Christmas EP’s, Vols. 1 and 2. Who new these old songs could sound so new? Who else but Eric Owyoung could achieve this? As much Advent as Christmas, these are collections of hope and longing.
- Sojourn – Advent Songs. Jamie Barnes’ new version of “Joy to the World” outpaces the rest of the album, but there are some other worthwhile tunes as well. Extra points for originality.
- David Crowder Band – Oh For Joy. If you like Crowder, you’ll like this. If Crowder’s not your thing, this won’t be either.
- Chris Tomlin – Glory in the Highest. Suprisingly, I was underwhelmed by this album. Recorded live, most of the arrangements aren’t that creative or original. But if you’re looking for a “contemporized” collection of traditionals tunes that don’t stray too far from the originals, you may find this helpful. You’ll probably want to lower some of the keys, however.
- Casting Crowns – Peace On Earth. The favorite band of baby-boomers everywhere recorded a very pleasant Christmas offering in 2008.
- Mercy Me – The Christmas Sessions. Perhaps the most eclectic Christmas album, from emotional renditions of classic hymns to fun “bar band” arrangements like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
- Francesca Battistelli - Christmas. New this year. Sort of the female pop version of Mercy Me's album in that it is equal parts heartfelt worship and marshmallow-peep fluff.
A common complaint I hear from guitar players regarding Christmas hymns is that there are too many chord changes. It need not be so. Don't just write chords over the traditional versions. Better to use an updated arrangement that will better fit the style of your service. Here are my favorite contemporary arrangements of classic Christmas songs:
- Angels We Have Heard On High – Wide variety of options here. Chris Tomlin or Third Day give you good updates of the traditional version. Future of Forestry provides a nice acoustic alternative. Or for something new, see MercyMe’s “Gloria.”
- Do You Hear What I Hear – Third Day. Runner up: Lincoln Brewster.
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Jars of Clay (soft), or Mercy Me (loud)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Lincoln Brewster (if angels had electric guitars).
- It Came Upon a Midnight Clear – Mercy Me.
- Joy to the World – Lincoln Brewster, but see “new songs” section below for something different.
- O Come All Ye Faithful – Third Day. A great rocking opener to invite all to worship.
- O Come O Come Emmanuel – Future of Forestry.
- O Holy Night – Third Day. An upbeat variation of the classic version.
- Silent Night – Third Day. For this one, simpler is better. Just grab an acoustic guitar. Although, Lincoln Brewster’s gorgeous, bluesy version is nice too. I'm really digging this album!
- The First Noel – David Crowder Band.
- What Child Is This – Future of Forestry, with Sojourn as a rocking close second.
Some new songs to consider adding to your repertoire:
- Advent Song - Matthew Anderson. Self-serving here, but it's one of my most-used worship songs. It was written as an Advent liturgy. Listen to it here. Contact me for chords/music.
- Born in Bethlehem – Third Day. Connects Christmas with Holy Week and Jesus' resurrection.
- Christmas Offering – Paul Baloche
- Gloria – Mercy Me. Really, just the chorus and bridge are new – the verses are an arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
- Glory Be – Sojourn. Nice Advent piece.
- Hosanna in the Highest – Sojourn
- Joy to the World – Sojourn. Jamie Barnes sets the classic lyrics to new music to great effect. If you have a “Blue Christmas” service, check this out. Also great during Advent as a song of longing and hope.
- Shout for Joy – Lincoln Brewster
- Unto Us – Dave Chumchal
- You’re Here – Francesca Battisteli. A beautiful ballad from Mary’s perspective that would be perfect for a solo or other special music piece.
Songs for Advent
If you want to be liturgically correct and wait for Christmas to sing carols, there are a few better classified as "Advent carols." "O Come O Come Emmanuel," is most obvious. "Joy to the World" works for either (especially see Sojourn's version, mentioned above). I like the tone of "What Child is This" for Advent. "O Little Town of Bethlehem" can also work, as can "Do You Hear What I Hear?". I recommend "easing into" Christmas, reserving the most explicitly celebration-carols for the actual Christmas season (which begins December 24 and continues for the following 12 days).
Many songs from your regular repertoire will also be great for Advent. Anything with themes of hope, longing, expectation, and waiting work great. "Hosanna" songs express this mood beautifully, as hosanna means "come and save us." "Kyrie" pieces ("Lord, have mercy") are also appropriate. Keep in mind that Advent is as much about Christ's coming into our world in a new way now as it is about preparing to celebrate his birth. Here's a sampling from my lists. Also see the "new songs" list earlier in this post.
- Be Merciful to Me (Goodgame; recorded by Caedmon's Call)
- Desert Song (Fraser)
- Everlasting God (Brown/Riley)
- Hosanna (Baloche)
- Hosanna (Fraser)
- Let God Arise (Tomlin)
- Lord Have Mercy (Merkel; rec. by M.W. Smith)
- The Fall (Gungor)
- This Is Not the End (Gungor)
- You’ll Come (Fraser)
Do you have any Advent or Christmas worship favorites that I've overlooked? What are your favorites?