It began to look a lot like Christmas a few weeks ago — with the arrival of a flurry of holiday-themed CDs.

Christian artists ranging from the silky soft Sara Groves to the edgy Seventh Day Slumber are offering their reflections on "the reason for the season." At this time of year, variety is very welcome since everyone seems to have his own thoughts on what constitutes good Christmas music. Following is a quick list of some of the best:

- "Home for Christmas," by BarlowGirl. The three Barlow sisters are known for their solid rock and hard-hitting lyrics. For this disc, they take a step back to the kind of music that Mom loved. In fact, Mom did love it when I played it for her. But I loved it, too. The powerful vocals and orchestral touches combine for a rich, full sound. The original "Hallelujah (Light Has Come)," which proclaims the savior’s birth, is terrific. Aside from a jarring "O Little Town of Bethlehem," the album is satisfying from beginning to end.

-"Peace On Earth," by Casting Crowns. It’s rare that a disc so powerfully portrays the awesome majesty that permeates the Christmas story. On most tracks, Casting Crows trades its rock riffs for strings, woodwinds and acoustic guitars. The results are awesome. It opens with a stellar rendition of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and doesn’t let up until ending with "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." The album also offers a Christmas-oriented version of "While You Were Sleeping," a social commentary that appeared on the band’s last disc.

-"O Holy Night," by Sara Groves. With her soft, sweet voice and insightful snapshots of family life, Groves is always a joy to listen to. For Christmas, she delivers excellent new arrangements of old standards, such as "Star of Wonder," "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and "Silent Night." She also highlights home life in such original track as "To Be With You," which focuses on family visits, and the funny "Toy Packaging," which describes the frustration of dealing with the plastic, wires and cardboard that encases toys these days.

- "X Christmas," by various artists from BEC Recordings. It’s the least traditional of the lot. Grandma’s likely to freak when she hears Thousand Foot Krutch’s "Jingle Bell Rock" or Seventh Day Slumber’s "Do You Hear What I Hear." But the disc also offers what might be the coolest "Carol of the Bells" ever, by August Burns Red. Most of the tracks are new recordings and most work very well — though FM Static’s pop-rock version of "Christmas Shoes" misses the mark and KJ-52’s "It’s Christmas Time" seems a bit goofy. If you like to truly rock around the Christmas tree, this is the disc for you.

- "Jingle Bells," by Amy Grant. Stateside, you can tell Christmas is coming when Grant hits town with her annual holiday tour, so it’s no surprise that she has a good stock of Christmas music. This album offers 18 tracks, mostly with solid orchestral arrangements guaranteed to engender a warm, comfortable feeling. The only real clinker is the title track, which sounds way too much like it came from an ’80s lounge act. Only four of the songs — including "Jingle Bells" — are new recordings, so you’ll want to check the complete song list if you already have an extensive collection of Grant CDs.

- "It’s Christmas," by Mandisa. After her stint on "American Idol" and a good debut album, Mandisa has become a popular fixture on the Christmas music scene, so a Christmas album was a no-brainer.The album is vibrant, big and brassy. It overflows with seasonal joy thanks to Mandisa’s full voice and the upbeat pop. The only problem is that the disc seems to jump around among several styles, which means that it’s hard to settle into a single mood and just enjoy the music.

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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