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Bethlehem - Click to view! There are few Christmas recordings that contain those unique melodic lines I constantly seek, but independent artist Scott Riggan accomplishes some delightful twists in his new Christmas EP, Bethlehem. He mixes aged classics and newer compositions into a delicious blend of calming holiday songs-a blend worthy of being brought out year after year.

I was immediately drawn to the styles found in the three carols, "Joy to the World," "What Child is This," and "Silent Night." Scott Riggan has some competent musicians on his team. "Joy to the World" is redone with a jazz feel to include a dancing B3 organ and the character of an upright bass. "What Child is This" takes the listener to Italy with intricate mandolin movements and ends with a lengthy instrumental solo with the character of an improv. Riggan's version of "Silent Night" incorporates a slower piano feel, and he sings the ballad notes with ease. A violin appears along with classical guitar, and all pieces harmonize to form a relaxing creation. These three songs are the strongest recordings on the six-track EP. They incorporate different musical styles, and they remain at a reasonable length-not too long, not too short. I wouldn't have minded an album full of such melodies, because Riggan covers the Christmas songs with much success.

Riggan sings his own song, called "Bethlehem," and I enjoyed the Middle-Eastern, minor-note flare heard in the introduction and verses. It's a song depicting the origin of the Christian faith: "How far my feet have taken me / From that silent, holy night / But the core of all that I believe / Is in that moment of time." Yet when the chorus comes, the tune falls into a major key and loses some of the musical charm heard in the beginning. The reprise of this song, "Remember Bethlehem," served as a fitting ending to the collection, and I found the original song to be somewhat redeemed in this finale.

The song "Anthem for Christmas," written by Michael W. Smith and Gloria Gaither, follows the outstanding trilogy of carols, so I'm wondering if that has to do with my non-committal attitude to this song. I haven't heard the original version of the Smith and Gaither creation, so I only have the words to study. The song was written to mimic a hymn: "In the space of the beginning / Was the living Word of Light / When this Word was clearly spoken / All that came to be was right." The song begins softly, but in the second verse, a guitar comes in with a pulsing strum, almost punk-like in nature. While the music is upbeat and light, it didn't hold my attention as a Christmas song.

Overall, I feel Scott Riggan did a good job in constructing this Christmas album. Seasonal products can be difficult to make due to high expectations held by listeners against such endeavors. With Riggan's musical diversity and strong, clear vocals, he has a long musical career before him.
- Hollie Stewart
December 2003
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