Minnesota native Paul Marino is getting one of the best gifts a Christian songwriter could ask for this Christmas.

The song he co-wrote, "Christmas in Heaven," is one of 11 holiday songs that American Idol winner Scotty McCreery performs on his recently released second album, "Christmas with Scotty McCreery." The album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 and No. 2 on the Top Country Albums charts.

"It's kind of the big song on the record," said Marino. "It's been getting a lot of attention."

Marino, 47, moved to Tennessee nearly a decade ago to work with the community of Christian songwriters in Nashville. But he credits his growing up in Duluth and attending the now-defunct Golden Valley Lutheran College with inspiring his love for writing music "that has a message that's ... positive."

"Minnesota is very solid ... pretty down-to-earth people," said Marino. "They're very non-pretentious kind of people. I want to write about real honest things. About life and family."

For nearly 25 years, Marino has been making music by performing, recording, producing, writing, publishing and leading worship. His songs have been recorded by Christian music singers like Steve Green and Michael English, as well as McCreery.

He has been a songwriter for Lifeway -- the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention -- since 2004. He was named Lifeway songwriter of the year for 2010 and 2011.

Marino still keeps ties to his home state as a performer, producer and songwriter for the Minnesota-based vocal trio River.

Marino grew up going to a Catholic church, attended a Lutheran college and now he attends a Baptist church in Tennessee. Such diverse faith experience, he believes, makes him a more informed Christian songwriter.

"I want my songs to always be songs I feel comfortable playing for my mom and the kids in the car," he said.

Rose French • 612-673-4352