Though best known in the Christian music industry, veteran guitarist Phil Keaggy is revered among guitarists of many faiths for his amazing mastery of the instrument, despite only having nine fingers. Because it appears to be almost mandatory in the Christian music industry to release Christmas albums, Keaggy has finally bowed to the idol with Majesty and Wonder, a Christmas album full of his wonderful playing. In this instrumental collection, Phil displays his wide stylistic range on seven holiday classics plus four original compositions that incredibly hold their own against such well-known Christmas fare. While most of these tracks are accompanied by the London Festival Orchestra or a small ensemble of instruments the focus is almost always on the guitar.
True to the multiple facets of Phil's past music, there are many styles to enjoy on this disc. "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is a pretty straightforward rendition in classical guitar but the next track, "Good Christian Men Rejoice" switches to a jaunty Celtic dance with penny whistles, violins, and Celtic percussion. "Silent Night" changes the tone yet again with a laid back, almost jazzy feel. A long-time favorite of mine, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" finds the melody traded between acoustic and electric guitars while the orchestra layers each verse with added tension. Other classics that Keaggy includes are "The First Noel", "O Come O Come Emmanual", "What Child is This?" and "O Holy Night". But for me, the highlights are the Keaggy originals. Comprising a three-piece set is the "Nativity Suite" where the interplay between the electric guitar and orchestra is quite dramatic, especially in the finale, "Flight Into Egypt" that incorporates the melody of "Carol of the Bells" into its tapestry.
Overall, the music on this album is quite laid back. If you are expecting the constant roar of electric guitar found on his Crimson and Blue album, you'll be sorely disappointed. But there is quite a bit of technical prowess herein, yet it's not so in-your-face that it draws attention to itself. Rather, this album is great background music that also bears up under close listening. Mellow yet rich.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, December 2000.