Music review: Bethlehem Skyline 2

The good folks at Centricity were kind enough to hook me up with an advance copy of the Bethlehem Skyline Vol. 2 CD, which comes out on Tuesday.

And it was an advance copy. I got it in August, a full month before the CD came out, and, well, a long time before Christmas. I actually put off writing this review until mid-September because it just didn't feel right to be reviewing Christmas music when it was summer.

I'll warn readers in advance: While I'm a big fan of Christmas, I'm not a big fan of modern-day Christmas albums. They tend to feature either lukewarm renditions of Christmas classics or mediocre new Christmas songs that will never become classics.

So, with that in mind, here's a track by track breakdown:

1) Give it Away - Me in Motion: A light, fluffy pop song that's totally unrecognizable as a Christmas tune, except for the lyrics. Pretty forgettable. (And I like Me In Motion. A lot.)

2) Rockin Around the Christmas Tree - Me in Motion: An acceptable cover. Again, nothing special. Hmmm ... this album isn't exactly lighting my world on fire so far.

3) Christmas In Our Hearts - Downhere: These guys are hands-down my favorite band in Christian music, but this song (which is also on their "How Many Kings - Songs For Christmas" project) is not my favorite. Sorry, guys.

4) Silent Night - Downhere: Now this is more like it. Moody, haunting, reverent - exactly what Silent Night should be. Tremendous.

5) Do You Hear What I Hear - Jason Grey: A lite-rock, vaguely country version. Again, nothing special. Sigh.

6) Love Has A Name - Jason Grey: A very pretty original Christmas tune. Thumbs up.

7) Away in A Manger - High Valley:  Well, country absolutely isn't my thing (although High Valley was really fun in concert when I saw them with Downhere last year) so I'm really not in a good position to pass judgment on this song. It's a country version of Away In A Manger. Pretty much what you'd expect.

8) Carol of the Bells - Lanae Hale: I'm not terribly familiar with Ms. Hale (I did listen to her debut album "Back & Forth" and thought it was OK), but this song is ... well, it's good in a weird, quirky kind of way. I'm trying to find a point of reference, and it'd be like if Katy Perry and Evanescence teamed up to do Carol of the Bells or something. 

9) Starving Artist Christmas - Lanae Hale: OK, I loved thing song right out of the gate when the first verse lyrics proclaimed, "My brain is kind of tense at the thought of writing this Christmas song, because it's all been done a million times over and over and over." YES! HA! And the rest of the song is just as self-aware and funny. Great stuff.

10) Morning Star - Sixteen Cities: Now these guys... I skewered their debut album. However, this song is really, really good and a worthy addition to a Christmas album.

11) O Holy Night - Sixteen Cities: .... and this one, not so much. It's fine, but for O Holy Night, you need more than fine.

12) Long, Long Ago - Andrew Peterson: A low-key piece that I think I'd like more with a different arrangement because I think there's actually a very nice song in there somewhere.

13) Little Drummer Boy - Matt Papa: Considering this is my least favorite Christmas song in any format or arrangement, it was going to take a small miracle to make me like this. Sadly, there was no Christmas miracle here. That's hardly Matt Papa's fault. He tried his best.

14) Hope Has Come: Matt Papa: And the album closes with a pretty good little piano ballad.

In sum: A decidedly mixed bag. Lanae Hale turns out to be the album standout, which was not what I was expecting going in. Probably worth some individual song purchases, but the album itself is not a must-buy for Christmas.
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