amy-grantFrom the first notes of Amy Grant’s new Christmas music CD, Tennessee Christmas, it feels so cozy. We’re fireside with a woman who loves the Christmas season so much, she’s dedicated (now) 5 albums of her extensive discography to it. Most years, she’s on tour right up until Christmas week making spirits bright. Tennessee Christmas is her first holiday CD in 20 years, and it brings us a wise and warm Amy, seasoned by the season, and by life. The music is at turns intimate, melancholy, and comforting. All the things Christmas seems to be.

The title track is Amy’s cover of her own tune. She’s not the young woman we heard on her first CD, anticipating holiday magic. She’s more the dear mom, aunt, or friend who tells you, “Oh, don’t get me anything. Just being with you is enough.” From there, Amy affirms that presence, and not presents, are what this holy-day is about. “To Be Together”, “Christmas for You and Me”, and her duet with husband Vince Gill, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” summon family, friends, and lovers to the feast.

Nestled in the mix is “Another Merry Christmas”, a somewhat painful reminder that not everyone has a place to belong on that day. Amy avoids the easy sentiments of songs like “Deck the Halls” and digs into the sad underpinnings of Christmas. Her heart is true in this ballad—a heart who’s learned there is healing in the tears. It calls us to set an extra place at the table. Amy’s manager, Jennifer Cooke, wrote about this powerful song for the Washington Post.

Jennifer’s column also confronts the “It’s not Christian enough” judgement this CD has received. I expected this response, as the CD is 7 tracks in before we hear a traditional, Jesus-centered song. Her earlier Christmas CDs featured several covers of traditional hymns and classic carols. This one is by far her bravest, most intimate collection. Throughout, Amy explores the bittersweet experience of a “Melancholy Christmas” in “December”. Rather than turning from her faith, however, her musings are best viewed through the lens of it. This is a woman whose known heartache and loss, and still found joy and laughter. We grieve our losses, but new life comes. Easter always follows Good Friday.

To balance these sentiments, Amy lightens the mood with “White Christmas”, “Still Can’t Sleep”, and “Christmas Don’t Be Late”. Yet, even this Alvin and the Chipmunks cover has strains of melancholy through it. All the tracks have a rich, almost jazzy feel, like a trio in a smoky bar, delivered by musicians who’ve earned the right to sing the blues. The upbeat tunes reassure us that one of our favorite balladeers of Christmas hasn’t lost the magic: “I feel like I’m 8 years old inside/I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve,” she croons.

“Music has always been a part of our family Christmas,” Amy says, introducing “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, and reminiscing about her dad. “Thank you so much for letting our family Christmas be a part of yours,” she says, with her loved ones gathered ‘round the fire, I bet. Right back at ‘cha, Amy.