A Christmas Story … Point of Grace
By Paul Evans
Best friends as well as platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated singers, the women of Point Of Grace are sharing Christmas memories. Terry confides first: “Last year, I had 20 people in my house; we’d put up four trees. Since it was my son Cole’s first Christmas, it was wonderful to see it through the eyes of a child.” Heather chimes in: “The best thing about Christmas is reliving the same kinds of things every year. My mom gets out the family Bible and reads. It’s just great getting together.” Chuckling, Shelley speaks: “I remember when I was five, I was dying for this toy avocado green kitchen set. My dad had hidden it. At the very last moment, he surprised me with it. I thought, of course, it was Santa.” Denise takes her turn: “Last year was the last Christmas both of my grandfathers were still alive. Being with your family at Christmas makes you so thankful, so grateful for every moment you have with them.”
The occasion for this Yuletide reminiscing? The imminent release of A Christmas Story, the new album of holiday standards and seasonal originals from the phenomenal quartet. Building on their legacy of 20 consecutive #1 singles, four #1 albums, Grammy Award nominations, Dove Awards and other critical accolades, Point Of Grace offer us new music that testifies both to their faith and to their joy. “A number of the songs are ones we sang in high school and college,” Denise says. “They have sentimental meaning for us, and hopefully our teachers will be proud that we did something special with the songs.” Heather adds, “We’ve gone all out to make this the most incredible album we can. We want it to be great.”
For Shelley Breen, Denise Jones, Heather Payne and Terry Jones, “incredible” is the standard they’ve aimed for – and achieved – ever since their 1991 genesis on an Arkansas college campus. Soon, when they join Michael W. Smith and the Nashville Symphony for Amy Grant’s 1999 nationwide Christmas Tour and network television special, they’ll continue the high-profile exposure that has already made them the hottest group in Christian music, according to The New York Times Magazine. Appearances on Live! with Regis & Kathie Lee, CBS This Morning, ABC World News Tonight, VH-1, and articles in USA Today, Time, The London Times, The Saturday Evening Post and a host of other publications have helped establish Point Of Grace as a force to be reckoned with.
And while they continue to thrill their core audiences on their sold-out concert tours and at festivals and fairs nationwide – especially at Women of Faith conferences (which drew 500,000 attendees last year alone) that remain particularly close to the singers’ hearts – they’ve also expanded their demographics. “We’ve noticed that we’ve gained two new audiences,” Terry says. “Now that we have moms in our group, we’re appealing on a much more personal level to mature women. Also, we’re getting a lot of really young kids coming to our show.” These days, it’s not uncommon to see whole rows of fans of all ages and genders at Point Of Grace performances singing along with the songs. “They take the time to know our music,” Shelley says. “It makes us feel really blessed.”
A Christmas Story is certain only to intensify the fervor among Point Of Grace’s massive following. With twelve tracks incorporating 18 songs, it’s a Christmas album certainly – but with a real difference. For one thing, the group’s creative team of producer Brown Bannister, A&R director Brent Bourgeois, and vocal arranger-singer/songwriter Chris Eaton have joined with the singers to create truly fresh, strong arrangements of the classics. Check out the jubilant, horn-driven Big Band zest of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (you haven’t heard such exhilarating swing since the Andrews Sisters). “Jingle Bell Rock” more than lives up to its danceable promise. The medley of “Carol of the Bells/What Child is This?” is harmony rendered celestial. And on an entire panoply of carols, the London Session Orchestra at Abbey Road studios in London, England, arranged by Carl Marsh (of the best-selling Streams project), adds drama, richness and color. “We’d never had a full orchestra before,” says Heather. “And then we went to London, walked into a room and there sat 76 musicians. It was amazing.”
Recorded over a two-month period amidst the group’s busy touring schedule, A Christmas Story features the outstanding musicianship and production that have come to characterize all the Point Of Grace albums. And the singers’ harmonies? They now soar with the ease and expertise of years of loving craft. “When you’ve been recording for a while, you know what you can do,” Shelley says. “You take the wisdom you’ve gained – and you want to go beyond your comfort zone.” Here, it’s not only the classic carols but originals by the stellar likes of Christ Eaton (“When Love Came Down”), Brent Bourgeois (“Light of the World” – a stirring collaboration with Michael Tait of best-selling group dcTalk), Jeff & Gayla Borders and Lowell Alexander (“One King” and “Not Too Far from Bethlehem”) and Watermark (“Emmanuel, God With Us” and “Rejoice Emmanuel”) that showcase the group’s extraordinary ensemble sound.
A Christmas Story is unique, as well, in that it represents the next step for this singularly successful foursome, winners of the 1999 GMA Group of the Year award. With their self-titled 1995 debut scoring an unprecedented six #1 radio singles, Point Of Grace has gone on to release three additional #1 charting albums, The Whole Truth, Life, Love & Other Mysteries, and Steady On, each of which is certified gold – with Life, Love & Other Mysteries also certified platinum. Those albums have spawned 20 consecutive #1 radio singles. Furthermore, three books penned by the group, Life, Love & Other Mysteries (Pocket Books), Steady On – Secured by Love and Circle Of Friends (Howard Publishing), have carried on the message of the quartet’s music and underscored the singers’ mission as sources of inspiration to millions.
“We’ve been singing together for so long,” Denise says, “that when we get together it’s almost like a sense of home for us. It’s so comfortable. It just feels so right.” It’s exactly that “sense of home” that Point Of Grace fans have come to love and to trust. This year, it’s with A Christmas Story that Point Of Grace brings their inspiration home to the hearts of music lovers everywhere.