"CHRISTMAS TIME IS HERE" … remember that pitiful-sounding little ditty from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" special that they've been airing on TV since … forever?  Linus and the gimpy tree, the Christmas pageant that almost wasn't, and the story of Christ's birth. 

The song cracks me up each time I hear it; it's so sad sounding, but at the same time there's this earnest quality about it (probably the children's voices).  Anyhow, it's a given that my family will be singing it with tongue firmly planted in cheek as we trim the tree and situate the garlands here and there around the house in the coming weeks.  

I also couldn't help but hum it this very week, as I was reading the flurry (okay, maybe not a flurry … but the word does go with my Christmas/winter-y theme I've got going on here) of press releases RE upcoming Christmas albums and tours.  Most notably is singer/songwriter Russ Lee who's not only releasing a Christmas album titled "Hear Those Bells" on November 9, but he's announcing his very own and very brand-new record label, Vertical Vibe Records.

While his solo career is arguably still in its infancy (Lee left NewSong as lead vocalist around the dawn of the millennium and prior to that had been a lead vocalist with Truth), Lee is stepping up to the plate to helm his newly formed label.  "I am excited about this opportunity to build a ministry-based label from the ground floor up," he says.  "Because we are small, we can focus on excellence and meeting the needs of our artists." 

As the label's inaugural release, "Hear Those Bells," features production by Zane King and songwriting by Lee and James Isaac Elliott on original selection, "Baby Boy," as well as the title cut.  Classics including "Joy to the World", "O Holy Night", "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and others also have made the line-up.  Lee will no doubt perform from his new holiday disc when he travels to Iraq next week to minister to troops stationed with the United States Army's 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  He's scheduled to make stops in the cities of Balad, Mosul and Bagdad, and upon return, Lee will headline the multi-city "A Night of Christmas" Tour in November and December.

Also planning to cruise the highways and byways very soon will be David Phelps, who launches his third annual Christmas tour on December 14 with special guests Erin O'Donnell and comedian Daren Streblow.  But they'll have to move over their tour bus just a smidge, 'cause the good folks who make up the artist roster over at Rocketown Records will be road-dogging as well.

RR label mates Watermark, Ginny Owens, Shaun Groves, Alathea, George Rowe and Taylor Sorensen (as well as longtime Rocketown friend Cindy Morgan) will support the label's first Christmas disc, "Gloria," on a 13-city December tour.  Produced by Charlie Peacock and Scott Denté for Runway Networks, "Gloria" was conceived in "community" fashion as artists spent time together in writing sessions at Peacock’s Art House studio and Wayne Kirkpatrick’s Maple Room studio earlier this year. Listen for first single, "God Is with Us" (featuring Amy Grant) to hit radio on November 19.