Planetshakers put their joyful, Christ-centered stamp on Christmas.

It’s Christmas
Label: Venture3Media (V3M)
Length: 11 songs/41 minutes

One writer remarked that when it comes to Christmas music, he seeks a release done in the artist’s normal style. By that reckoning Planetshakers mostly succeeds on their first Christmas album, It’s Christmas. They deviate from their norm on a few songs but that provides welcome variation. For the most part they make 11 songs including three originals their own.

What does that sound like? Much of it is celebration! “Come on let’s celebrate,” the worship leader sings on the title track, with music that matches the invitation. How can listeners not be moved toward that response when they hear such an upbeat take on the season, which includes an extended funky bass solo? “Be of good cheer. Jesus is here,” is a reminder that we have a solid reason for rejoicing. This is the song to play for a festive atmosphere.

Regardless of the style or tempo, the vocals, musicianship, arrangements and production are uniformly excellent throughout. In particular, the keyboard playing and programming stand out.

Expect a slowed-down, hip-hop vibe on “The First Noel,” which includes a rap extolling Christ’s birth. This opens to the sounds of a crackling fire and a keyboard wash, giving the feel of a cold winter’s night.

Perhaps the first surprise comes on “Silent Night,” the fifth track, which starts off with just acoustic guitar accompaniment. It holds to a softer sound with minimal percussion, more of a traditional take.

The next song, “All Glory,” is piano-driven soft jazz. A smooth female lead croons worship on an original song. It’s a gorgeous sonic departure. I’ve never heard such smooth, pleasant worship in this style.

Another diversion, one that is highly elegant, is “The Prayer,” written by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sayer. It’s an orchestrated duet with some of the lyrics in Italian. The male lead sings in a somewhat operatic style, which may be off-putting to some, but I appreciate the humility in the lyrics.

Let this be our prayer
When we lose our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe

Towards the end it becomes “every child” needs to find a safe place.

The group is back in a groove on the next track, “Light of the World,” which features an effective rap. The two raps on this release are easy to understand and give glory to God, so don’t be dissuaded if you normally shy away from this kind of spoken word.

The closing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” is rousing and joyful, a fitting sendoff.

Planetshakers continue to impress in their ability to fuse new and old sounds in the service of worship, which is often celebratory. I don’t know of any artist in this genre that does such a fine job of mixing electronic pop and R&B. Their creativity and excellence are refreshing.

Being a seasonal release this could get easily overlooked, but that would be a pity because there is light and beauty here that can be enjoyed any time of the year. It’s Christmas can help to chase away any gloom on the horizon, reminding listeners that everything has changed.

Michael Dalton