Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Best and Worst Christmas Albums Around, Volume 3

Amy Grant, A Christmas Album (Myrrh, 1983; rights have reverted to Grant, who has licensed it to Sparrow Records – but my copy says BMG Records, so who knows?)

1. Tennessee Christmas
2. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
3. Preiset Dem Konig! (Praise the King!)
4. Emmanuel
5. Little Town (new melody to O Little Town of Bethlehem)
6. Christmas Hymn
7. Love Has Come
8. Sleigh Ride
9. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
10. Heirlooms
11. A Mighty Fortress/Angels We Have Heard on High

I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music – nothing against the genre, but it’s not my cup of tea.  Yet, somehow, I’ve accumulated six Amy Grant albums through the years – I find her very likable, with a surprising sense of humor (I distinctly remember her doing a promo for a VH1 golf tournament and saying in voiceover, “If anybody tells me I’m sweet…” WHACK!  “I’ll kill ‘em.”).  She’s gone through a few career phases; her 1980s albums were almost all Christian, she moved to the mainstream in the 1990s (1991’s Heart in Motion yielded five top 20 pop hits), and some of her albums are a mix.  It’s her first Christmas album (she’s released so many Christmas songs over the years I might be able to do a greatest hits albums review for her based on her Christmas best-ofs alone), and it’s a nice mix of religious and non-religious Christmas material.  Grant co-wrote four of the songs herself, including the pretty, family-oriented “Tennessee Christmas” (which she just re-recorded for a recent collection) and the bold “Love Has Come,” which is far more of a faith declaration.  Among the standards: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “The Christmas Song.”  This was given to me on a cassette many, many moons ago by a friend of mine along with a pile of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums, but this is the only one for which I’ve actually gone out and bought the CD – it’s perfectly okay to play at a party or with the family while opening presents.

Best songs:  “Tennessee Christmas,” “Emmanuel,” “Love Has Come,” “The Christmas Song,” “Heirlooms.”
Worst song:  “Preiset Dem Konig! (Praise the King!)” is a synth-only piece that has not aged well.

Amy Grant, Home for Christmas (A&M, 1992; rights have reverted to Grant)

1. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
2. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
3. Joy to the World/For Unto Us a Child Is Born
4. Breath of Heaven/Mary’s Song
5. O Come All Ye Faithful
6. Grown-Up Christmas List
7. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
8. Winter Wonderland
9. I'll Be Home for Christmas
10. The Night Before Christmas
11. Emmanuel, God With Us
12. Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire [instrumental]

Nine years later, and this was Grant’s third album (her second, The Animals’ Christmas, with Art Garfunkel and written by Jimmy Webb, is supposed to be pretty good, but I haven’t heard it and I don’t think it’s on any of her anthologies), released between Heart in Motion and the less successful album House of Love.  (As a result, this has gone triple platinum, better than any of her other albums other than Heart in Motion – although I’m not sure if her early albums on Myrrh were scrutinized by the RIAA.)  Much more secular than A Christmas Album, and also far more orchestrated (the London Studio Orchestra, whoever they are, are on eight of the 12 songs).  Grant only co-wrote two songs here (“Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” and “Emmanuel, God With Us,” although she’s credited with additional lyrics for the David Foster-Linda Thompson penned “Grown-Up Christmas List”), but they’re both pretty good – better than the usual shuffle of standards.  I’d go with A Christmas Album first.  Note:  this was reissued by UMG (when they still had the rights to the album) as a budget-line item as 20th Century Masters: The Best of Amy Grant – The Christmas Collection, making it sound like an anthology, which it’s not.  That version is out of print, but it might still pop up in a few stores.  Don’t make the mistake of buying that if you already have it as Home for Christmas.

Best songs:  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Worst song:  “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire” is an instrumental – Grant neither sings nor plays a note – so why bother putting it on her album?