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The Nativity Story Sacred Songs
Artists: Various Artists
Label: New Line Records
Time: 13 Tracks / 50 minutes
Released: October 31, 2006

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.

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.

This CD will be released concurrently with Michael Danna’s soundtrack of original music for New Line Cinema’s The Nativity Story starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac. The film begins with Mary meeting the angel, her pregnancy and marrying Joseph, trip to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, shepherds and Magi. It is a well-done film with some dialogue taken from the Bible.

What you will hear in the film are Michael Danna’s compositions, which are in a classical mode and fit the action of the story. This particular CD, though,  is a compilation of various artists who have produced albums with music appropriate to the Nativity story.  The selections are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “For Unto Us,” “Breath Of Heaven,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Labor of Love,” “Mary, Sweet Mary,” “Silent Night,” “Mary, Did You Know?”, “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night,” “For the Beauty Of The Earth” and “The Virgin’s Lullaby.” What I liked about this album is that the lyrics come through on every song.

The orchestrations and arrangements are top-notch with several standouts. The first track features Jaci Velasquez with a breathy and moving rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Point of Grace is next with their version of “For Unto Us” from Handel’s “Messiah.” 

Jill Phillips and Andrew Peterson on “Labor of Love” sing of Mary’s trial during the birth of Jesus, which truly, was a labor of love. Jo Dee Messina has a mournful “Silent Night” with a wanting ache in her voice, for you see, Jesus was born to die. Kenny Rogers & Wynonna have a colorful blend on “Mary, Did You Know?” Mark Schultz raises the roof with “The First Noel” as does LeAnn Rimes with “O Holy Night.” 

 My favorite is track twelve with BarlowGirl working with an orchestral arrangement of the familiar hymn “For The Beauty of the Earth.” The ending is seamless. This compilation is certain to become a worldwide favorite.

Copyright 2006 Marie Asner
Submitted 11/22/06

I have good news & bad news about The Nativity Story, Sacred Songs.  The bad news is that, unlike other “inspired by” albums, this disc gives us only two new songs (“The Virgin’s Lullaby” by several CCMers and Barlow Girl’s “For the Beauty of the Earth”), both middling.  The good news is that this is still a mostly enjoyable collection of Christmas songs built around the theme of the Nativity story.  The focus is on Mary & the actual day of birth.

Jaci Velasquez starts things off with a sedate, yet pretty, rendition of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  Her voice is the central focus of this simple arrangement.  It kicks off the disc with the proper, reverent tone.  2 songs later, Amy Grant’s subtle, quiet version of “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” continues this solemn direction. 

Unfortunately, “Mary, Did You Know” (written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene) has been much overexposed in modern CCM.  That said, this disc has my all-time favorite rendition of the song, delivered with vocal prowess by Kenny Rogers & Wynonna.  They switch off the lead part at the right times and complement each other vocally.  Not usually my cup of tea, but almost as strong is Natalie Grant’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Another well-done song is Jill Phillips (with Andrew Peterson) singing “Labor of Love” (originally on Peterson’s phenomenal The Lamb of God).  Phillips voice is the perfect match for the folksy, acoustic song.  Peterson’s tender harmonies create the perfect vocal blend with Phillips’ gentle alto.

I unfortunately have most of these songs already on other Christmas discs.  You may, also, so check your collection before you go out to buy this project.  However, if you don’t already have these songs elsewhere, this is a nice, if somewhat flawed, collection of reverent holiday tunes.

By Jonathan Nelson 



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