A Bluegrass Christmas


Personally, I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the encouraging amount of feedback we have received about our 4th 2012 worship album: “Peace on Earth: A Bluegrass Christmas.”  What started as a neat idea to have a small EP turned into something a little larger and more thematic.  We have sold out of our original run, and have been refilling stock as often as we can.  Many of our members have given theirs away and needed another one.

There are some random stories and interesting facts from each track.  If you like knowing some of the behind the scenes stuff, read below:

  • 1. Hark the Herald Angels Sing – Our pastor, Jeff, is the lead banjo on this track.  We originally toyed with the idea of an a cappella intro, but his part was so great and there was just something special about having him do it.  The album starts off lyrically with some of the first words being: “peace on earth and mercy mild” setting up the theme for the album.  The song has a fun bluegrass feel that we toy with to make more dramatic once we get to verse 3 on my favorite Christmas verse of all time: “Come, desire of nations, come, fix in us thy humble home, rise the woman’s conquering seed, bruise in us the serpent’s head!”
  • 2. Angels from the Realms of Glory – This one includes a fun bass solo, some stacking harmonies, furious dulcimer playing and my first attempt to play the spoons.  It was also Eric’s first attempt at the dobro.  We felt like the song needed it, so he went in the room next door to learn how to play it!
  • 3. O Little Town of Bethlehem – Very simple with an acoustic, Stacy’s great vocal, and some unique harmonies with the very intricate chording.
  • 4. Away in a Manger – Peggy and Amanda did the “Cradle Song” melody and made it such a pretty arrangement.
  • 5. In the Bleak Midwinter – Eric’s voice was made for this song and Patty’s violin playing left us breath-taken when she recorded it.  John and I were literally slumped over in the seat trying to take it all in.
  • 6. O Come O Come Emmanuel – When we had finished the list, John said he had in his head a version of this song in an “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?” feel.  I was definitely in for that.  He had a great guitar part, and I added a little banjo accents.  He said he could hear a chain gang kinda stomp throughout the whole piece, and so one of the last things recorded was when I got Jamie, Lacy, and Polly to stomp on some wood for me in my office.
  • 7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – This is one my favorite’s on the album.  It’s just got a bluegrass attitude about it.  In addition to some great instrumental moments (including an upright bass solo), we tagged the chorus from “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in it.  I also added the “Carol of the Bells” melody in the outro which was kinda difficult because they are in 2 different time signatures, but it made it quite fun.
  • 8. Peace on Earth – I had 2 lines floating around in my head that I couldn’t get rid of: 1) “There are wars in the streets, there are wars where we sleep,” and 2) “You promised us peace on earth, where has it gone?”  I kept avoiding trying to write this song, because we had intended this to be a very simple album with no new material, but I couldn’t escape from the melody line and concept of the song progressing thematically.  I eventually decided to finish it, let Tracey listen to it, and then she sang it perfectly.  Little did we know the tragedy that was coming our nation’s way that this song could minister to our people like it did.  Jesus is the peace on earth we are all looking for.
  • 9. Wonderful Peace – Including this non-Christmas hymn was Jeff’s idea.  As he was working on the sermon series for December, “Peace on Earth,” he kept coming back to this song.  We listened to many different versions, but kept ours very peaceful intentionally.  If you think about it, the song really is a Christmas song: “Peace, peace, wonderful peace, coming down from the Father above.”  The way that this track and the previous flowed together turned out pretty special.
  • 10. Gesu Bambino – As I searched for public domain Christmas songs, this title came up, and I don’t know if I had ever heard it before.  I googled it and the first thing that came up was a YouTube clip of David Archuleta and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir covering it.  Interesting, I know.  I absolutely loved the feel of the song, loved the lyrics, and once I heard Jeff play the melody on the fiddle, I was convinced, we can make this sound bluegrass.
  • 11. Go Tell It on the Mountain – Jeff’s idea was to make the melody start on the fiddle and almost like someone walking up a mountain playing it.  Then it erupts into a bluegrass party.  One thing we also used in this was tagging “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” in the middle of the song.  It actually flows great at the end as it says, “I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, wherever He leads, I’ll go tell it on the mountain…”  This has served as a great missional Christmas song for our congregation.