Every composer’s easiest and most difficult project is their Christmas album. It’s easy because there are so many beautiful pieces from which to choose. It’s difficult because everyone else has done a Christmas CD and finding a way to be true to the piece while being creative and original is a major challenge. In Thankful Heart, Joyful Mind, Pam Asberry has accomplished both beautifully. She has chosen Christmas pieces from all over the world that are less often heard. She presents each one simply and delicately, while adding her own creative touch. Ms. Asberry takes the art of composition to a whole new level as she paints pictures on the keyboard, leading the mind to see the sights and smell the wonderful scents of this beautiful season. She obviously has carefully researched each piece in order to perfectly capture their “personality” in the creative portraits she paints of these songs that have been heard and sung throughout the years. In “Gesu Bambino” (one of my personal favorites), she begins with a folksy introduction. The melody of this piece rings beautifully above a left hand that reminds one of the rocking of a cradle. Her haunting presentation of the melody in “Sing We Now of Christmas” with the drone-like left hand captures the early origins of this carol perfectly. She moves through a short section of improvisation on the chord structure and returns to the simple presentation of the melody. The Irish origins of “Wexford Carol” can be heard from the very beginning with the melody in the upper register, almost like an Irish flute, supported by the drone in the left hand, reminding one of bagpipes. Her unique, simple and wistful presentation of “White Christmas” is lovely and captures a dream-like quality. “Away in a Manger” begins with a variation of “Brahms’ Lullaby” and continues with a lullaby feeling that moves through creative chord structures, creating an altogether beautiful arrangement of this beloved carol. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is my absolute favorite on this CD. Pam paints a river running throughout the piece. As I listen to this favorite holiday tune, I can feel the rocking of the sleigh, see the sun glistening on the river, feel the crisp air on my face and smell the smoke from fires burning brightly in the hearths of happy homes. It transports me back to wonderful family holidays spent with grandparents, parents and children basking in the glow of this wonderful season. I love the simplicity of Ms. Asberry’s arrangement of “Bell Carol.” She allows the melody to ring. Her inclusion of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” fits perfectly in this piece. She moves flawlessly from piece to the other in this arrangement expressing the joy and celebration of Christmas, ending with a bold statement of the last phrase, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” The introduction to “In the Bleak Midwinter” perfectly sets the mood for this carol from the late 1800’s based on a poem by English poet Christina Rossetti. “March of the Kings” is Pam’s only variance from the otherwise peaceful mood of this album. She presents this piece in all the boldness of its origins in the Crusades of the 13th Century. I can almost see the pageantry of royal banners flying as the three kings made their way across the desert to bring their gifts to the newborn king. The Austrian carol, “Still, Still, Still” describes the peace of the infant Jesus as he is sung to sleep by his mother, Mary. Ms. Asberry’s arrangement of this carol is so beautiful and peaceful – in perfect keeping with the carol. In “He Is Born,” one can feel the mood of celebration with its dance-like quality. “Come Let Us Anew” is a hymn written by Charles Wesley to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Pam concludes her CD with this much-loved hymn of celebration, which she has arranged beautifully to portray the joy of this blessed season. Pam Asberry has created a beautiful album celebrating the Christmas season. It is creative, original and yet, true to the original carols. Her mastery of the piano and brilliant arrangements will bring joy to hearts of the listener. This is a must-have for those who love to celebrate this joyous season with beautiful music! It will certainly be one of my favorite additions to my collection of Christmas music. Beautifully and brilliantly done, Ms. Asberry!