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IT'S CHRISTMAS TIME (2002)
It's Christmas TimeAnother Open Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Sorry to bother you so much recently. I understand you must receive letters from millions upon millions of demanding kids each day, especially this close to the Christmas rush, but I felt this was an issue of great importance. You've already got the list of stuff that I want, right? This time I thought I'd write and tell you what I didn't want. For starters, please don't give me clothes again this year. No offense Saint Nick, but you've got horrible taste. You can also forget delivering those TaeBo videos, the Underwater Basketweaving for Dummies book, and anything pertaining to goats. Oh yeah, one more thing. Please do not bring me City on a Hill: It's Christmas Time.

In case you didn't know, It's Christmas Time is the third album in Essential Records' City on a Hill worship series. Usually these projects are compilations featuring several artists from different Christian labels who unite to bring worship to Jesus Christ. The formula remains the same this time around, except the conception of mixing Christmas classics with new worship originals puts a serious dent in the anthology. Of the record's twelve tracks, only three manage to excel whereas the rest hit sleeper status. The top pick of these three is undoubtedly the originally penned "Bethlehem Town" by Jars of Clay. My choice may seem biased, but this cut has restored my belief in Jars' ability to produce outstanding music. Beginning with an a cappella intro followed by the cozy, single chords of Steve Mason's acoustic guitar, Dan Haseltine's vocals carry you back to Bethlehem where we see Mary struggling with the knowledge that she has given birth to the Saviour of the world. Haseltine's lyrics are some his finest artistic work: "You gave birth to the death that would bring us to life / And did the mystery keep you awake? / Was the sound of his little heart too much to take?" The addition of Matt Odmark on 12-string guitar sharpens the bluesy edge of this track's conclusion, and it is also the only track not produced by Steve Hindalong and Derri Daugherty, probably explaining why it's the disc's best. Additionally, Sixpence None the Richer's recording of "Silent Night" deserves honorable mention. As always, Leigh Nash's knack for vocal beauty is in top form, and Matt Slocum's presence on guitars resurrects peaceful nostalgia of caroling around the bonfire on a chilly winter's night. Last but not least, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Out of Eden comes in third place, as this trio's tight vocal harmony is too smooth to pass up. The programming bodes less than favorable, but then again it wouldn't be Out of Eden to perform an entirely acoustic set.

Unfortunately, Hindalong and Daugherty got their hands on the rest of this project, and their production quality is surprisingly sub-par. Furthermore, poor artist selection was another factor that drove It's Christmas Time deeper into the ground. Favorites such as Jennifer Knapp, Nichole Nordeman, and Bebo Norman were replaced with featherweights like Tait, Sara Groves, and Paul Colman Trio. The addition of Julie Miller and Derri Daugherty added nothing significant to the record, and most listeners will wonder who in the world Terry Scott Taylor is, much less want to listen to his repetitive, robot-like vocal performance of "Holy Emmanuel." Caedmon's Call makes a fair showing with "Babe in the Straw," but it sounds too much like a B-side from their In the Company of Angels album to deserve any acclamation. "Manger Throne" earns the title of the flattest Third Day song ever to be recorded, and "O Holy Night" would have been a winner had anyone but Michael Tait been paired with Leigh Nash. Their vocal cohesiveness melds like oil on water.

City on a Hill: It's Christmas Time does serve its intended purpose: to praise and glorify the Father and celebrate the birth of His Son, Jesus. However, its artistic merit falls lower than the previous two City on a Hill compilations, and therefore, this is why I've added this CD to the list of things I don't want for Christmas. Maybe you could bring me one of the Happy Christmas projects instead? Not to be disrespectful, Santa, but if it comes down to this album or coal, I'll take the coal. At least I can use it to start a barbecue.
- Rick Foux
December 2002
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