The Phantom Tollbooth
The Gift - A WeatherVane Christmas Collection
Artist: Various
Label: WeatherVane Music
Length: 38:22 / 12 tracks

I grew up with my mom playing Christmas albums of all styles and genres far in advance of the day of celebration, and long after as well. She loved Christmas music. Unfortunately, such overkill only fostered my hearty dislike for it at worst, and simple indifference at best.

Imagine my amazement, then, to discover actual feelings of pleasure while listening to WeatherVane Music's The Gift! They've gathered some of the best grassroots acoustic singer/songwriter types (most from their label and also featured on their quality Downstream compilation), including Hughes and Wagner, Christopher Williams, John Austin and Erin Echo, Jason Harrod, Claire Holley, and Vigilantes of Love. Just like their last compilation, each artist offers two songs each. With the exception of two self-penned Bill Mallonee/VoL tunes, most of the choices are musically traditional and draw on the Christian mythos built up around the winter holiday over the past few hundred

The disc's first half really does its job in creating a hushed heart. I was well on my way to declaring The Gift the only Christmas album I've ever loved as I listened to the creative percussion in Christopher Williams's "The Little Drummer Boy," Jason Harrod's beautiful picking and distinctive voice soaring through "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and John Austin and Erin Echo's groovy retro-static mood mastering of "Blue Christmas." Two-thirds of the way through, though, the disc falters just a bit, losing the stylistic slants that had won me over, and my eyes glaze over as the songs sink into nice normalcy. Gratefully, the album does pick up slightly at the end with Austin & Echo's warm keyboard version of "Away in a Manger" and Vigilantes of Love's final cut, "On to Bethlehem (My Heart's Electric)."

Looking for a quiet and slow, somewhat left-of-center acoustic Christmas album? Give this gift to yourself. Check WeatherVane's website (top) for ordering, or call toll free 888-660-9933.

By Josh Spencer  (11/12/980