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As you might expect, Christmastime is popular with Christian musicians and this year is no different.

Three of the industry’s top artists — Michael W. Smith, Jars of Clay and Relient K — offer their musical musings about Jesus, his birth and even some of the secular trapping of the holiday.

Smith best represents the traditional wing of contemporary Christian music, and “It’s a Wonderful Christmas” should appeal to those who prefer a mellower take on the holiday.

Today’s praiseBacked by an orchestra and choirs of children and adults, Smith’s album is the pleasant sort of music that plays in the background as hot chocolate is sipped and yule logs burn.

It offers a mix of familiar tunes and Smith’s own work, with a large dose of instrumentals. One of the high points is “Christmas Day,” a cheerful look at traditional American festivities.

It features a duet with “American Idol” finalist Mandisa and support from plenty of children.

The rock band Jars of Clay offers something a bit less traditional in “Christmas Songs.”

Most of the tracks are quite familiar, but the presentation isn’t.

There’s a mix of electric, acoustic and orchestral music with a few chimes thrown in.

There are fun takes on old standards — including a sort-of-spooky electronic version of “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” and a soft, moody take on “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” In fact, many of the tracks have that moody feel.

The album also offers mellow versions of modern classics,” such as “Drummer Boy,” “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Love Came Down at Christmas.”

One of the most pleasant tracks is “Hibernation Day,” which is the sort of song you need when you’re curled up next to someone special.

Those looking for a little edge should check out “Let It Snow, Baby … Let It Reindeer,” by the pop-punk band Relient K.

The merry punster Matt Thiessen goes to work on Christmas themes and comes up with “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas” — complaining about someone who snitched about misdeeds — and “Santa Clause Is Thumbing to Town” — about mayhem at the North Pole that results in a hitchhiking Kriss Kringle.

The guys from Ohio offer a cool, high-energy version of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” a punked-up “Deck the Halls” and a blazing “12 Days of Christmas.”

They’re followed by a peaceful piano set — opening with “Silent Night/Away in a Manger” and flowing into the excellent “I Celebrate the Day,” which asks some weighty questions about Jesus and his time on Earth.

But, the energy returns — or explodes — again in “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and a choral version of Handel’s “Messiah” that you’ll never hear in church.

The disc wraps up with “I Hate Christmas Parties,” a lament about the “broken heart that you’re giving me,” and “Boxing Day,” a post-holiday prompting to look forward to the joy of spring.

This is old-school Relient K, packed with orneriness and attitude.

However, those who prefer the group’s most recent work, which has been deeper and richer, will find some gems here, too.

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


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