Religion

Christian artists tackle Christmas classics

Among the many things you can find on YouTube is Christmas With the Devil, a holiday tune from the satirical heavy-metal band Spinal Tap.

The lure of holiday lucre has created some rather, ahem, interesting Christmas songs and albums from artists we would not assume are honestly interested in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

But that presumption is turned around when we're talking about contemporary Christian music, a genre in which pretty much every substantial artist has produced a Christmas album — or, in the case of Amy Grant, three Christmas albums and then a greatest hits collection just from her Christmas albums.

As 2011 comes to a close, we find several more recent Christian hitmakers offering their takes on Christmas.

Matthew West gets positively Harry Connick Jr.-esque — or Michael Bublé-esque, if you'd like a more contemporary standard-bearer — in his collection, mixing new songs such as the album-opening Happy Day After Christmas and classic fare, much of it tailored to give your Christmas party a little swing.

Even jazzier is Vintage Christmas, which lives up to its name if your concept of vintage is the late 1950s and early '60s, from Superchick guitarist Dave Ghazarian, going by the name David Ian. Given the incognito nature of the project, which includes Acacia Wulfing of the duo Tal & Acacia, Vintage Christmas is the real find of the season.

As they exit the CCM stage, the David Crowder Band offers Oh for Joy, an album of traditional classics with expected DCB twists. In Kentucky, we have long known of Crowder's love for banjo and bluegrass, and Joy delivers another taste of that with Crowder's down-home rendition of Angels We Have Heard on High. The album reaffirms what a shame it is that this group is breaking up.

Not breaking up is TobyMac and his Diverse City Band, which enters the Christmas game with Christmas in DiverseCity, a collection that highlights members of the group, including singers Gabe Real and Nirva Ready, and guests Leigh Nash and Owl City.

Also featured on the album is Jamie Grace, who offers an infectious disc of her own with her EP Christmas Together, including a surprisingly reverent version of The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late).

EPs, short albums of a half-dozen songs or so, are becoming increasingly popular avenues for releases, and longtime rockers Hawk Nelson contribute one this year with Christmas, which is very loud but does close with Silent Night. The group Kutless is also known for volume, but This Is Christmas draws on the band's worshipful side, with five traditional carols performed, for the most part, traditionally, and two new songs.

Chris August takes an even more modest approach re-releasing his blockbuster debut, No Far Away, in a "Christmas Deluxe Edition" with two new tracks.

Showing a bit more ambition is One Silent Night by FFH, the duo of Jeromy and Jennifer Deibler. The spousal pairing lets this one start with a flirtier tone, as the Deiblers trade rationalizations in Baby It's Cold Outside.

The Deiblers might hold a particular appeal to couples, or people who hope to become part of couples, but singer-songwriter Matt Wertz has enjoyed a career among the college crowd, and he delivers a vision of Christmas with Snow Globe.

We could go on, and if you are thinking, "I don't know what to choose," you could try a super-size sampler with the first WOW Christmas compilation album in several years, WOW Christmas (2011) with 32 selections, including performances by Newsboys, Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin and Third Day.

Then again, you might want to lean on old favorites. I am always recommending Relient K's classic Let It Snow Baby, Let It Reindeer, an amazing mix of wit and solemnity, and Ginny Owens' Bring Us Peace, as amazing a statement as a Christmas album can be.

Finally, there's always Amy Grant. Suffice to say, if you are looking for Christmas fare, you won't have to settle for Christmas With the Devil ... or Justin Bieber.

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