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AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL
'Sparrow Christmas' Turns 35
Sparrow Records' Christmas compilation turns 35, and we take a look back at some of the highlights.
 


AN NRT WAYBACK EDITORIAL, 'Sparrow Christmas' Turns 35
Posted: November 22, 2023 | By: JJFrancesco_NRT
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It might seem hard to believe, but there was a time when Christmas music was not a rite of passage for artists, and it was actually fairly uncommon to find your favorite Christian artists lending their voice to the sounds of the season. This made Sparrow Records' 1988 Christmas compilation a special offering. Tasking many of their then-signed artists with recording a Christmas song for a compilation, this album is a precursor of many other great compilations in the years to come. It was so special that the tracklist was rereleased as Home for the Holidays six years later. But as this original release turns 35, we look back at some under-the-radar yuletide classic recordings you might have yet to discover.

Home for the Holidays

The album's single and major selling point is its original recording. With all of the artists featured collaborating with each other on this track, it remains a true treat to hear some of the different harmonies you'd never hear anywhere else. 

Steven Curtis Chapman's soft voices carry verses while Whiteheart's Rick Florian's glorious highs stand out in the chorus. But regardless of which artist you notice the most, it's a buffet of vocal harmonies in a truly underappreciated Christmas classic.

The song's themes hold up even better on relistening, singing of the joy of returning home for Christmas to a place where maybe not much has changed from what you remember, but that's the appeal of coming home. In some ways, this song's message hits even harder today in our nostalgic era. Yet, seeing how nostalgia was something even artists from the 1980s related to could also be a comforting way to relate across generations.

The gang all team up for the album-closing "Angels We Have Heard on High," but it's this original that makes the most impression.

 

Other Musical Highlights

This compilation originates some truly memorable Christmas covers. Whiteheart's take on "Little Drummer Boy" is legendary in the classic Christian rock world. While many artists have given a memorable spin on it across the years, fans of classic 1980s arena rock have few that can compete with the soaring rock goodness of this track. Rick Florian balances a haunting angelic voice with a divine high worthy of the band's hair-rock-driven sound of the age.

Steven Curtis Chapman's soft contemporary "Away in a Manger" evokes childhood wonder in the best way and is a great taste of the Christmas goodness we'd get from him over multiple Christmas projects through the years.

Geoff Moore offers an exciting take on "Jingle Bell Rock" while Margaret Becker belts a powerful rendition of "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Whiteheart member Billy Smiley produced all of these aforementioned tracks, and his production touches are definitely the most memorable for this listener. But other contributions, such as Steve Camp's "O Holy Night" or the bouncy "Winter Wonderland" by Steve Taylor, also merit a listen. Those familiar with Denise Williams will also find her unique take on "Do You Hear What I Hear" a treat. Michael Card's haunting "What Child Is This" makes good use of his talents with a lullaby-like offering that is still stirring. 
 

Further Points

Steven Curtis Chapman would go on to release three full-length Christmas projects as of this writing, producing Christmas classics such as "Christmas is All In The Heart" and "All I Really Want." At times, I was surprised to learn that his rendition of "Away in the Manger" originated here and not one of his other albums. Likewise, Whiteheart's "Little Drummer Boy" would find its way onto several of the band's compilations, and even some of their summertime setlists, and be a rare gem of a track in the band's catalog. 

While many of the artists on this compilation aren't very familiar to modern listeners, many of these artists were A-list names in their day in the Christian music circle.

Through the years, some of my favorite Christmas albums have been similar albums to this, such as Centricity Records 2007 Christmas project Bethlehem Skyline. There's something special about a front-to-back original Christmas compilation. Not just one strung together with a smattering of unrelated singles but one truly compiled with an artistic heart in mind. 

While many artists' Christmas projects can feel a bit padded with uninspired classics to fill out a few highlights, these compilations often had a tighter focus since each artist focused on 1-2 tracks and gave it their all. As such, projects like these are definitely ones I return to many a holiday season. As this one turns 35, look it up and give it a fresh listen. What better time for you to indulge in a little shameless nostalgia?

 

J.J. Francesco is a longtime contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. His new novel, 'When Miracles Can Dream,' is out NOW!

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