The Phantom Tollbooth
A Long Time Ago ... In a Land Called Bethlehem
Artist:  Carman
Label: Benson Records, 1986
Time: 37 minutes / 10 tracks

This is the only Carman album I will admit to owning. That's because it is the only Carman album I own. No, really. It's also the only Christmas album I owned until this year (and I haven't listened to the other one yet). What's more, I've even been able to pull Carman's album out almost every Christmas season without getting bored of it for over 10 years.

A Long Time Ago ... In A Land Called Bethlehem was released on CD and cassette in 1986, before Carman had the same direction he has today. Firmly set in the 80's, synthesizers are everywhere, which isn't surprising considering that John Andrew Schreiner is the both the album's keyboard player and also producer. That said, half of the songs are performed in traditional carol style. Other notable musicians lending their talents to this project are: Bob Wilson, Dennis Holt, Walt Harrah, Teri DeSario, Steve Taylor, and C.C. Winans who does a duet with Carman on track 5.

Carman wrote all the songs for this project except for the three carols. At least one or two have become Christmas favorites, which are performed as solos in churches in December or have been incorporated into other performances. On the whole, this album is good if you like upbeat songs. Most likely Carman realized adults buy the most Christmas albums and targeted this audience. The result is an album that makes you feel like you just left a good Christmas Pageant. Some of the songs are pure worship songs, which most adults over 25 will appreciate, and others are lively songs providing an appropriate change of pace. Given that there's no alternative tinges (though track 7 sounds a little like rap), it's unlikely to appeal to a younger audience.

Mattias G. Hembruch  (11/9/98)

Song Order(t = traditional, p = pop):
1. We Three Kings (t)/Where is He (p)
2. Away in a Manger (t)
3. For Unto You (p)
4. What Child is This (t)
5. Our Blessed Saviour Has Come (t)
6. (A Long Time Ago ... In A Land Called) Bethlehem (p)
7. Jesus Is (p)
8. I feel Jesus (t)
9. Jehovah Shalom (p)
10. Celebrating Jesus (p)