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CASTING CROWNS
Peace on Earth (Reunion Records)

This band's popularity comes mainly from Mark Hall's bold, poignant songwriting, evidenced here by "While You Were Sleeping," which compares America to Bethlehem for failing to make room for Jesus. But the rest of the album goes through the motions, setting familiar carols to predictable country-pop adult contemporary.

TRAVIS COTTRELL
Ring the Bells (Indelible Creative Group)

Best known as the worship leader for Beth Moore's conferences, Cottrell is capable of both soft crooning and operatic bellows. It's a good thing, since these ten tracks run the gamut of pop, classical, and jazz, mixing traditional with contemporary, sacred with secular, and originals with covers. An excellent project, reminiscent of many other traditional Christmas albums.

AMY GRANT
The Christmas Collection (Sparrow Records)

With three classic holiday releases dating back 25 years, Grant's yuletide repertoire is big enough for a best-of compilation. The focus here is on orchestral pop and adult contemporary country, wisely eschewing the '80s synth-pop. With four new tracks that measure up to the classics, it's a delightful collection.

SARA GROVES
O Holy Night (INO Records)

Groves, one of the best singer-songwriters in Christian pop, penned some terrific originals here. But despite the warmth of her sound, this album is a tad dreary—more an album about Christmas than one celebrating it. She also sets too many carols to new melodies; she would have done better sticking to the familiar or offering something wholly new.

FERNANDO ORTEGA
Christmas Songs (Curb Records)

The holiday album you would expect from Ortega, focusing primarily on seasonal hymns—some familiar, some less so—with a remake of "Jesus ...

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December 2008

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