Looking for a way to relax during the holiday season? Why not take Amy Grant's advice: "Light up the fire and play some Nat King Cole," Grant sings on the title track to her new album, "A Christmas to Remember" (Myrrh).
The suggestion is hard to knock, given Grant's musical alternative. This is the singer's third Christmas release, and while it's pleasant enough, it hardly ranks among the genre's best. The album's mix of contemporary ballads and traditional pieces will be welcomed by longtime fans, but less devoted listeners are likely to find most of the music more sentimental and polished than charming or inspired.
The focus of a tour (coming to MCI Center on Friday) and an upcoming television special, the album features two symphony orchestras and tries to cover a lot of musical ground--everything from a lushly arranged interpretation of "Silent Night" and Michael W. Smith's worship ballad "Agnus Dei" to a jazz-tinged reprise of "Jingle Bell Rock." Grant is in fine voice, bright and tuneful, but the absence of fresh, memorable songs ultimately takes its toll, especially when she performs "Mister Santa," a contrived adaptation of "Mister Sandman."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8174.)
Point of Grace, the Christian music quartet currently on tour with Grant, has wrapped its new seasonal release, "A Christmas Story" (Word), in an intricate weave of harmonies. Like Grant, the group has chosen to mix holiday favorites with original material, but even the most familiar pieces benefit from inventive arrangements that showcase the women's voices in a series of unusually colorful settings.
Along the way, the group brings a euphoric tone to both "Joy to the World" and "O Holy Night," swings with ease through "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" and showers old-fashioned girl-group harmonies on "Jingle Bell Rock." And while dc Talk's Michael Tait contributes a strong vocal to "Light of the World," it's clear from the outset that Point of Grace is a thoroughly self-sufficient vocal ensemble.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8175.)
Michael W. Smith, who is also touring with Grant, was in the midst of recording "This Is Your Time" (Reunion) when the student killings at Columbine High School occurred. On the album's title track, he turns the tragedy into a song of inspiration and comfort. Smith is nothing if not an earnest performer, so although some of the lyrics he sings are cliched, he manages to invest most of the album's songs with emotional honesty. In fact, he's at his best when delivering ballads that require little more than a sincere vocal to get the point across. Unfortunately, Smith is also a sucker for the kind of overwrought rock arrangements found on "Reach Out to Me" and a couple of other tiresome performances.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8176.)
CAPTION: "A Christmas to Remember" by Amy Grant, top, is more polished than inspired. Point of Grace's "Christmas Story" has inventive songs and arrangements.