Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and among other things we all know what that means – time to bring out the Christmas music! Actually, this year it seems like Halloween was the time to bring out the Christmas music, but we resisted here in the Gray household… kind of. We kicked things off a week early when I bought Bob Dylan’s new Christmas record, “Christmas In The Heart” (which is… strange? really cool?).
Which brings to mind the question of what your favorite Christmas records are and why…
For example, since Andrew Peterson is our proprietor here, I expect that many of you might answer his “Behold The Lamb Of God” – and well you should because it’s a great, great record! If that’s a fave, then tell us why and what it means to you. Maybe you also want to tell us about another one. Or two or three! We just want to hear about it and hopefully help each other discover more of one of the most beloved things about this time of year: music that celebrates God with us.
It’s a tough decision for me, but three records come to mind right off the bat.If I could onlypick one, I’d probably have to say the soundtrack to a Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi.
It’s nostalgic without being sentimental, musically distinctive with it’s Jazz trio interpretations of classic songs, and it of course captures the spirit of what we all love about the T.V. special itself: that beautiful mix of melancholy, joy, and hope.
After that, I’d be inclined to pick Sufjan Steven’s Christmas box set, if only for the sheer force and scope of the thing. What could easily become a quirky self-indulgent project has moments of such quiet power that it takes my breath away. “Holy, Holy, Holy” comes to mind, as does “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” and even “The Friendly Beasts”. Plus, it’s hard to resist a boxed set collection that includes stickers, stories, a poster, and songs with titles like “Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!” and “Get Behind Me Santa!”.
If I’m not grinning when listening to this collection, I’m wiping the tears from my eyes. In the booklet (and this project is a great example of the physical copy being much better than the itunes version), Stevens relates his uneasy relationship with Christmas and the funny/sad circumstances that led to the creation of these songs. It’s all so refreshing and real, and the gift Sufjan gives us is that as he rediscovers his own love of Christmas, he helps us do the same.
But another record that deserves an honorable mention on account of the fact that I doubt that many people have heard of it is Bruce Cockburn’s “Christmas”. Cockburn is kind of like the Canadian Bob Dylan, but maybe a bit more passionate. He’s had limited US success over the years, but his fans include Dylan, Bono, Mark Heard, T-Bone Burnett, etc. This was one of the first Christmas records I purchased as an adult in 1993 and so has sentimental value to me, but Cockburn is an amazing guitarist and songwriter, and on this record takes some chances that uniquely bear his sensibility, like turning “Early On One Christmas Morn’” into a rousing saloon song.
In certain interviews, Cockburn laments that too often Christmas music is the aural wallpaper of December where we don’t really hear anything being sung. With this record, the carols and hymns are treated like songs, written by writers who intended meaning and beauty. So even though the record is full, Cockburn serves the lyric and employs almost exclusively acoustic instruments. Though raised in a secular home, Cockburn chose to not do any secular holiday songs and instead stuck with the carols that were passed down to him by his dad in the form of a makeshift Christmas hymnal made of Christmas cards and ring binders. You’ll either love or hate his voice, but this has always been to me one of the great Christmas records.
So what’s the soundtrack to your Christmas season?
Jason Gray is a recording artist with Centricity Records. His latest single, out now, is "When I Say Yes".