CCM Classic Blog

Do You Know Lanny Wolfe? By Philip Mayaab

Every musical genre has them...those artists that have some major hits, but just don't seem to garner the recognition that their talent says they should have, and the Lanny Wolfe Trio is one of those artists.  They have a plethora of great songs, courtesy of Lanny Wolfe's amazing writing ability (during the 70s, he was a constant contender for GMA songwriter of the year), an amazing lead vocalist in Marietta Wolfe, and a musical sound that featured some of the tightest harmonies around.  

Now if you don't know who Lanny Wolfe is by name, I promise that you have heard some of his award winning songs.  The list is far too long to name them all, but titles like "Surely The Presence Of The Lord Is In The Place", "More Than Wonderful"," My House Is Full (But My Field Is Empty)", and "Greater Is He That Is In Me" are some of songs credited to this legendary songwriter.  He was very busy with the album we're featuring on Vinyl Revival this week, which happens to be the Lanny Wolfe Trio's "Christmas" album from 1978, titled "Rejoice".  The only reason I put the word Christmas in quotations is because there are actually two selections on this album that aren't Christmas songs, and we will get to them shortly.  Anyway, Lanny wrote 8 of the album's 9 songs, and this really is a great collection of songs, including the extra two.  

The album starts off with the title song "Rejoice With Exceeding Great Joy", a comparison between the wise men seeing the star in the east that first Christmas, and a sinner seeing the light of God.  A mid tempo song , it's a great start to the album, although I personally prefer the live version from the album "Make A Joyful Noise" , mostly because it features backing vocals by the Jackson College Of Ministries Choir, however the studio version of the song is still quite good.  "No Room" is the name of the album's second track, again utilizes the comparative style of writing, in conveying the theory of mankind not having room in their hearts for Jesus, just as there was no lodging for Him on that first Christmas.  Lanny Wolfe was a master at this style of writing, and the first two songs on this LP prove that point all too well, while also adding another dimension to this Christmas album, because these kind of songs not only deal with the Christmas aspect, but also minister to the current situation of mankind.  What's so sad is that here we are, 40 years after the release of this album, and the human race still has little to no room for the King of Kings.

Next we go to one of the two non-Christmas songs, called "Head Over Heels".  Even though it may be out of place on an album of mostly holiday songs, this song is still one of my favorites on the LP.  It has a nice little bouncy beat to it, and it's one of those songs that can get stuck in your head for several hours after you listen to it.  The lyrical content of falling head over heels in love with Jesus, mirrors another popular Lanny Wolfe song called "I Keep Falling In Love With Him" from a few years earlier, but with the different musical arrangement, this particular song maintains a fresh, updated feel.  It is a fun little song to listen to!  Next up was a song taken from a popular bumper sticker in the late 70s "Wise Men Still Seek Him", which slows the tempo down, but turns up the message.  One of my favorite things about this album is that it proves that a well written Christmas song can both tell a story and minister to the lives of the people listening, and once again this song does just that.  As the wise men sought out the place where the baby Jesus lay, the modern wise man still seeks the place where his Lord can be found.

Closing out side one is the only song on the album that is not a Lanny Wolfe tune, and it's called "Born To Die".  It reminds listeners that even though Jesus came to this world on that very first Christmas, he came for one reason, to give His life that mankind could be saved. This is one of those songs that could serve a purpose for either Christmas or Easter, to be honest, but the lyrics reinforce that message that the real reason He came to earth was to bring salvation.  Side two kicks off with one of those signature songs of Lanny's called "Cherish That Name", which could easily find its way into the worship service at any church.  Based on the biblical story of the visitation that Mary had with the angel, who told her that she would bring forth a son, and call His name Jesus, the chorus morphs into the type of lyrical content that we typically hear in contemporary worship services in church, and the second verse continues that concept. "Cherish" is a great song, and don't be surprised if you feel the sudden urge to worship the Lord as you listen to it.  Next up is the other song with no ties to Christmas, called "Seeking For Me". This song is just straight up testimony time, complete with that good old fashioned "revival time" piano playing to open the track.  Marietta Wolfe (Lanny's wife) takes the lead vocal, and let me tell you, if you can't feel something stirring in your soul during this song, something is wrong.  It will cause you to remember how life was before the Lord saved your soul, and the difference when He did.  If you're going to take a break from the Christmas music, this is the kind of song you want!

Now the final two tracks from "Rejoice" go back to the theme of the entire album, which is a collection of songs that present the Christmas message in a way that can be sang and enjoyed year 'round.  "So Gently He Came" is the first of them, and the subject is how a King came to the world He had created, not with the fanfare reserved for royalty, but rather in the form of a tiny baby.  Makes you thankful that He chose to enter this world in such a humble manner, just the same way He seeks entry to each of our hearts.  The final song called "A Star Was Born" is probably the most purebred Christmas song on the album, and it is also another one of my personal favorite tracks on Rejoice.  A beautiful string and horn arrangement offset Marietta's soft lead vocal, as it tells how a star was born in Bethlehem.  What a message to close out this different type of Christmas LP with, but one that still rings true today.

I will say this..."Rejoice" is probably one of the most unusual Christmas albums by a Christian artist, but the  purpose of the project is explained in the liner note on the back of the record jacket, which reads as follows...

"There is a tendency among Christians to celebrate the Christmas story in carols during one season of the year only.  The inspired songs contained in this album have placed Christmas in a gospel music idiom which makes the Christmas message both a seasonal concept as well as music to be sung the year round."

As you listen to the album this week, I urge you to listen not just with your ears, but with your heart as well.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in what Christmas has become, that it becomes even easier to forget what Christmas really is...a celebration of the birth of the most important individual to ever walk on earth, Jesus Christ.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the presents, the overeating (Lord help us all), or even Santa Claus, but even as Christians, we can do ourselves, our children, and our world a HUGE disservice when we forget the true purpose and meaning of Christmas, or become so burdened with buying the perfect gift for someone special, that we take His birth for granted. So just keep in mind that He truly is the reason for the season, and without His birth, life, death, and most importantly His resurrection, there would be no opportunity for eternal  life and joy in Heaven.  I will step off my soapbox now, and invite you to enjoy a different, and maybe unusual kind of Christmas album this week, but it's one that I think needs to be heard and rediscovered.  So won't you join us and the Lanny Wolfe Trio as we all "Rejoice" for the birth of our Savior.

TRACKLIST

Side 1 - 

1. Rejoice With Exceeding Great Joy (Lanny Wolfe)

2. No Room (Lanny Wolfe)

3. Head Over Heels (Lanny Wolfe)

4. Wise Men Still Seek Him (Lanny Wolfe)

5. Born To Die (Unknown)

Side 2 - 

1. Cherish That Name (Lanny Wolfe)

2. Seeking For Me (Lanny Wolfe)

3. So Gently He Came (Lanny Wolfe)

4. A Star Was Born (Lanny Wolfe)

 



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