Christmas StorieseditedChristmas richly imagined through the principal characters

Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy
Artist: Jason Gray
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 13 tracks/44:40 minutes

Even though Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy is Jason Gray's first Christmas release, he is among those who make music worthy of the season. His storytelling skill highlights God's enfolding drama as seen in and through key players.

The most striking example is the over-looked innkeeper. Gray portrays him as a businessman, who anticipates Messiah's coming but is blinded to it by jadedness. He cries for rest but fails to recognize how close it came to him in a babe born not far from his door.

Gray moves from the exuberant opening song to music that occasionally borders on roots rock. This is where he is at his finest, when the production is stripped-down and his singer/songwriter muse flows freely. Thoughtful lines abound like gifts offered for all who have ears to hear.

One surprise is "Ave Maria (A Song for Mary)," unusual for its retro-50s sound and added lyrics that imagine Mary's early life. The chorus is peculiarly sublime.

It's easy to think of the virgin birth as the miracle of Christmas, but in Gray's reckoning of Joseph, forgiveness is the miracle. Joseph carried forgiveness in his heart, while Mary bore embodied forgiveness in her womb.

Who but the shepherds could have their story summarized in a pop/rock style with an anthem-like chorus? I can imagine "Gloria!" being sung by a multitude.

Gray does a brief, traditional take on "O Little Town of Bethlehem," which is gorgeous. He puts his own stamp on two other classics, "O Holy Night," which has a programmed rhythm track that is a little distracting, and "Joy to the World." The latter works well, but the best moments come on the many original compositions.

Gray invites listeners to the renewal that comes from seeing the Child of Christmas. He reminds us that the greatest gift we can give to God is ourselves.

His songs are richly imagined in every way, which makes this one of the season's best releases. This is essential for Jason Gray fans, and those looking for fresh rumination on a timeless story.

Michael Dalton


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