On December 1st what promises to be an outstanding film, The Nativity opens at theatres across the country. The film chronicles the pregnancy and journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Word Records in partnership with New Line Records has released the nativity story, Sacred Songs. Now before you get all excited like I did, this is not the soundtrack. The CD simply comes with the moniker inspired by the film. I suppose the skeptic in me might be more inclined to think that it was inspired by the cash register, however that shouldn’t detract from our evaluation of the CD on musical merit. The soundtrack won’t be available until December 5th.
Normally I would start with discussing the opening track, however I have been so impressed with the artwork both inside and outside the CD cover that I wanted to give high marks to New Line Productions. If I could stockpile the CD covers many of my friends would be receiving them as Christmas cards.
Prior to the release of this album I had not heard the 2001 rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Jaci Velasquez. I will say two things about the first track: Velasquez’s vocals are stunningly pretty and the track is far too short. The listener gets teased and then dropped before the song reaches a natural conclusion. What were the producers thinking?
A quartet of songs about Mary fills in tracks three, five, six and eight. Amy Grant’s 1992 recording of Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) is resurrected. With all due respect to Grant who co-authored the song with Chris Eaton, there have been several artists since the early nineties who have one-upped Grant on her own tune. Having said that, if not for the sensitive insights provided by the duo of Grant and Eaton, we would not be enjoying this song fourteen Christmases later. It has become a standard for the season.
Labor of Love penned by Andrew Peterson and sung by Jill Phillips, is a simple country tune that paints a picture of stark loneliness. The humility, and lonely instrumentals remind us that this was not a king born into lavish surroundings, but shared a lowly stable with animals and was laid in a manger. His parents were a carpenter and a teenage girl. If you have a daughter in her early teens take a look at her, then imagine the enormity of the responsibility associated with being the mother of Jesus.
The real jewel of this quartet of Mary songs belongs to the duet of Kenny Rogers and Wynonna singing Mary Did You Know. I have heard this song hundreds of times and performed by numerous artists over the years, but this has to be one of the best readings of a song which bears thought provoking lyrics. As good as Rogers is (and he is one of my favorites), Wynonna steals the show with her emotive vocals. As starkly as Peterson and Phillips painted the loneliness of Mary and Joseph, now Rogers and Wynonna provide a canvass of wonderment. When Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry wrote, “When you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God,” I think they imagined it being interpreted with the sensitivity with which Wynonna presents the lyric.
Mary Sweet Mary offered up by Selah featuring Plumb could have used a stronger effort.
Leann Rimes crashes and burns on O Holy Night. This is simply the worst I have heard O Holy Night sung.
Christian rockers BarlowGirl give us a different look with a very sensitive and lovely nativity version of For the Beauty of the Earth. The trio never disappoints live or in the studio and this is a beautiful Christmas gift you can enjoy before December 25th.
The Virgin’s Lullaby is a song which leaves us feeling good as this CD draws to a close. Singing in parts, singing duets and in harmony are Mike Weaver (Big Daddy Weave)Todd Smith and Allan Hall of Selah, Point of Grace, David Phelps and Michael Farren but the voice that will really catch your ear is the beautiful solo work performed by Natalie Grant.
Copyright © 2006 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.