Grammy-winning artist Guy Penrod chuckles a little bit when asked how much time he spent coming up with the title for his new holiday album, simply titled Christmas.
"I'm kind of simple when it comes to that kind of stuff. I just figured that it's full of Christmas songs, so there's nothing better than just calling it Christmas. When I did an album of hymns, I called it Hymns, and when I did a worship album, we called it Worship. It makes sense, so we'll just go with it," he says.
The singer tells Billboard that the meaning of the holiday is quite simple. "The first thing for me is that it's a birthday celebration for Jesus. I think it's silly to have all the controversy that we have nowadays about saying 'Merry Christmas' and trying to take the birthday boy out of his own birthday. That's the most important reason for the celebration. In our house, we lift him up and believe in his power to change someone. I'm a living, walking example." He does say the season is a festive time with his family. "In the context of that, we just have a blast as a family. We eat well, celebrate each other and do a lot of shooting clay-pigeon contests. It's just a fun and festive time of year for us."
Christmas is full of standards, ranging from "O Holy Night" to "Angels We Have Heard on High" -- selections Penrod says have stood the test of time with great reason. "We sing these things not purely out of tradition. Songs live because they are good, not because they're old. I feel the same way about these Christmas songs that have been around for so long and have such depth and meaning."
As an artist, how does one offer his or her perspective on a classic yuletide standard without trying to change things too much? "It is a challenge as an artist, because you tend to want to stretch, but it does take some conscious effort to say 'This song is strong just like it is,'" the singer says. "It doesn't need any help from me, so I'm going to take it easy, sing the melody, and put it down in a key where I don't have to reach for it vocally where people can sing along with it. I feel like these songs are standards, and there's power in that."
Many of the songs off of the album have deep histories, such as "The Twelve Days Of Christmas," which dates back to the late 1700s. Penrod includes his wife and eight children on the track. "It's a blast to me to think that many years ago, people were singing the same melody. We tried to stick to what it was, though I had a fun time with it by putting my kids on it. That felt like the perfect song to have them sing along with me. It's one of those Christmas classics that people love, and hopefully they will sing along with."
Tradition-wise, Penrod says his memories are just a little different growing up by virtue of location. "I grew up in eastern New Mexico. We did a lot of quail hunting. It was a flat oil field area, and a bunch of the guys that went to my dad's church worked in the oil industry, and were familiar with all the pump jacks, rigs, and water tanks in the flat areas in which I grew up, and there was usually a lot of quail. Christmas was always a time to go hunting, and we would eat well. We ate Mexican food, which is a little different than in Tennessee. Our Christmas Eve meal was stacked enchiladas with hard boiled eggs, and green chile on top of it. There were a lot of warm memories, hunting, eating well, and probably exchanging gifts throughout the day."
The former member of the Gaither Vocal Band will be hitting the road to promote the project, and he's excited about what 2015 holds, though he simply leaves the direction he takes to a higher power. "I love this business because there are so many variables and unforeseen opportunities that lie ahead. You just live in the moment and cut the best music you can cut. We just trust our way to God every morning – and believe that verse that says acknowledge me and I will direct your path. So, that's the plan."