Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day Three

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Song #3: Jingle Bells

Leeann’s Pick: Raul Malo

This fiery version does what this song is meant to do; it puts me in a festive mood. I love the jaunty, jazzy production and Malo leans into the song as intensely as he does any song that he sings.

Sam’s Pick: Crash Test Dummies

Or “Scary Jingle Bells,” as my kids call it. Leave it to this quirky Canadian folk group to turn a joyous, bouncy song like this into an accordion-driven battle dirge. Thanks to Brad Roberts, who’s one of the few people who can make Trace Adkins sound like a castrato, this version of “Jingle Bells” sounds more like a slaying song than a sleighing song.

Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day Two

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Song #2: O Come Emmanuel

Sam’s Pick: Sugarland

When they’re not focusing on steampunk imagery and incorporating reggae interludes into their songs, Sugarland can make some quite nice music, as evidenced by this track from its Gold and Green album. Jennifer Nettles’ and Kristian Bush’s voices blend well together, particularly on a folky, banjo-driven track like this one.

Leeann’s Pick: John Berry

John Berry’s powerhouse voice singing this powerful song is pure Christmas perfection. In fact, I never even appreciated this song until I heard Berry’s version. Now, thanks to this version, not only do I appreciate many versions, it’s turned into one of two favorite Christmas songs of mine.

 

Twelve Songs of Christmas: Day One

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Along with all the other traditions that come with Christmas time – watching your favorite TV specials, getting together with family on Christmas Day, wondering how you ever lived without a pre-lit Christmas tree -  one of the best ones involves breaking out the collection of Christmas music.

As a kid, it meant that the Bing Crosby and The Chipmunks Christmas albums make their way out of the buffet draw and take up a month-long residence on my mom’s stereo. Now, it means flipping over to my Christmas songs playlist on iTunes, where Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam and The Chieftains all are a part of the family’s Christmas soundtrack.

Seeing as how Christmas has more beloved songs than any other holiday around, Leeann Ward and I have put together a list of some of their favorite renditions of classic holiday songs. Feel free to add your own personal favorites in the comments section.

Song #1: Twelve Days of Christmas

Leeann: John Denver and the Muppets

Not a particularly high brow pick, but neither is this Christmas classic anyway. The juxtaposition of Denver’s straight delivery and the Muppets’ goofiness is especially delightful. What’s more, the way Miss Piggy revels in making the typically drawn out “Five golden rings” line even longer than usual is somehow endearing.

Sam: Bela Fleck & the Flecktones

As fun as the song is, even the merriest of people get a little tired of it by the time it gets around to the leaping lords and the dancing ladies. Fleck and company decide to ratchet up the degree of difficulty by performing each day in a different key and a different time signature — AND include some Tuvan throat singing to boot.

Music Memories: Christmas Morning

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

My earliest Christmas memory is 1985.  I was six years old, still believed in Santa Claus, and like my older sister, I was on the receiving end of plenty of gifts that I never would’ve thought to ask for.

This particular Christmas, I had asked for a cassette of Soul Kiss, of all things. I had seen a video on HBO of a song from the album, and somehow my parents were able to figure out how to get that specific tape, which I hadn’t asked for by title. So it was in my stocking. No big deal.

Then my Dad did something strange. He insisted my sister and I go back to our rooms and get dressed for the day. We were annoyed, as Christmas means pajamas until church, but after getting gifts, you don’t want to seem ungrateful.

I heard my sister scream first, all the way from her room on the top of the stairs. Somewhere along the way, Dad had sneaked into her room and set up a television. I ran up and screamed along with her, probably thinking that now we could watch TV in there together. I doubt that’s what she was thinking.

So I go and get dressed, and come back out into the living room. Everybody’s staring at me with anticipation.  I’m flummoxed.  “Did you see what was in your room?”   I went back in. Somehow I’d missed a brand new stereo system that was right on the nightstand.  Two tape decks and a record player. What could be better?

Looking back at that Christmas, I realize how those two gifts shaped the interests of my sister and me.  She remains a steadfast television buff, and still watches it in her bedroom all of the time.  For me, two trademarks of my personality were firmly established: my love for listening to music, and my complete obliviousness to my surroundings.

What are your Christmas morning music memories?

2010 Christmas Albums Extravaganza

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Yay! Christmas time is here again!

This year, instead of writing about this year’s crop of Christmas projects individually, I’ve decided to round them up in one post in an effort to make sure I acknowledge all of them. Unless I’ve overlooked one, the only album that will be omitted from this roundup is Shelby Lynne’s Christmas album, which is super good/compelling and funky, so it deserves its own review and it will come as soon as I figure out how to write about it.

Let the fun begin!

Carter’s Chord, Christmas

As Toby Keith’s best discovery so far, Carter’s Chord is a talented sister duo that hasn’t yet gotten the success that they deserve. With only one digitally released studio album that has received criminally little attention, they’ve still managed to deliver a delightful 4-song EP that would be well worth adding to your Christmas collection.

All of the songs are well produced, with very tasteful country arrangements, but the standout track is the warm and bluesy “Snowed In.” Surprisingly, the lead vocal on “Up on the Housetop” could easily be mistaken for a Miranda Lambert performance.

Lady Antebellum, A Merry Little Christmas

Yes, since I typically don’t shop at Target, I made a special trip to purchase this exclusive 6-song EP. It was at least one-third worth the effort. Literally. “Their versions of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Blue Christmas” and “Let it Snow” are given nice, if not unremarkable, country leaning treatments while “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “On This Winter’s Night” lean more toward R&B. “Silver Bells”, however, suffers from the generic pop production that Lady Antebellum all too often utilizes for their regular music.

Point of Grace, Home for the Holidays

For the last couple of years, Contemporary Christian group, Point of Grace, has attempted to make gains in the country market. They haven’t been successful, but they continue to try with the release of their fourth Christmas album (the third being a collection of their first two), Home for the Holidays. Their smooth harmonies are sweet but vibrant enough to stay out of the syrupy territory. The original “Candy Cane Lane” is laced with fiddle and steel guitar and, incidentally, is one of the stand out tracks on the album, along with the gorgeous “Emanuel.” Standards such as “Silver Bells”, “Little Drummer Boy”, and “Holly Jolly Christmas” are also treated to decidedly country arrangements and ably performed on the whole.

Mandy Barnett, Winter Wonderland

Mandy Barnett’s Cracker Barrel exclusive Christmas album is an unapologetic throwback to the Nashville sound of Yesteryear both in production and notable reverb affects. At this point, it’s unoriginal to compare her voice to Patsy Cline, but the similarity is pretty much irrefutable, so it’s no wonder that Barnett aptly capitalizes on the comparison and we, in turn, continue to make the connection. Ultimately, it’s a pleasant album, but more for background than intrigue.

Jason Michael Carroll, Christmas on the Farm

With Jason Michael Carroll’s chart success being somewhat spotty, it’s easy to forget that he possesses one of the top voices among the current country crop as he slips under the radar much of the time. Therefore, it’s the surprise of the season that his Christmas EP is one of the best Christmas projects of 2010. His talent gorgeously shines through most especially on the gently and beautifully sung arranged “Auld Lang Syne”, but on “Silent Night and “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as well. “Joy to the World” is a rousing back porch pickin’-type affair that is ridiculously infectious. The title track is also upbeat, but is the lone contemporary produced song on the set. It wouldn’t sound like a typical Christmas song if not for the setting, but it’s fun, if not superfluous, nonetheless. If this EP is representative of Jason Michael Carroll at Christmas Time, more please!

Favorite Albums: Christmas

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Last year, I counted down my twenty-five favorite Christmas songs. This year, it’s time to do the same with my favorite country Christmas albums. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comment section.

Merry Christmas!

#25
SHeDaisy, Brand New Year

This is not a typical, conservative country Christmas album. SHeDaisy spices things up by not only including originals, but rearranges the classics to make an unpredictable, unique Christmas album that stands out from the pack.

#24
Dolly Parton, Home for Christmas

This is an incredibly cheesy Christmas album. As only Dolly can do, however, it’s at least delightfully cheesy.

#23
Charlie Daniels & Friends, Joy To the World: A Bluegrass Christmas

This album flew under the radar this year, but it’s a wonderful bluegrass album with a few famous friends. Daniels even steps aside to allow his guests to sing while only accompanying them. Jewel steps up with an impressively country vocal on “Blue Christmas” and Kathy Mattea offers a rollicking version of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.”

#22
John Denver and the Muppets, Christmas Together

I grew up with this album. On the strength of nostalgia, I’d put it at the top of this list, but for the sake of being reasonable, I’ll settle for this ranking. Who doesn’t love the Muppets, anyway?

#21
John Cowan, Comfort and Joy

John Cowan’s Comfort and Joy is a new release, but its acoustic production and Cowan’s clear voice is instantly appealing. He interprets some classics, but also includes some worthy originals and lesser-known songs. The sprightly “Christmas Everyday”, the thoughtful “Little Match Girl” and the gospel “Good News” provide welcome depth to this Christmas project.

#20
Mindy Smith, My Holiday

Mindy Smith adeptly covers well-known standards on her Christmas album, but her original inclusions are what really stand out here, particularly “Follow the Shepherd Home” and “I Know the Reason.” With guest appearances from Alison Krauss, Thad Cockrell and Emmylou Harris (not to mention Smith’s own beautiful voice), My Holiday is one of the most outstanding mixes of originality and tradition on this list.

#19
Loretta Lynn, Best of Christmas…Twentieth Century Masters

This is a collection of Loretta Lynn Christmas songs. It’s my favorite traditional country Christmas album.

#18
Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable

If you enjoy Harris’ bluegrass album, Roses in the Snow, and her Live At the Ryman, you’ll likely enjoy this acoustic-based Christmas album as well. It has a live, relaxed feel to it. While it doesn’t necessarily sound big-budget, it is still a well-crafted Christmas album.

#17
The Tractors, Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas

The Tractors are infamous for their cringe-worthy novelty song, “Baby Likes To Rock It”, but they made an excellent Christmas album nonetheless. Their blend of swing and shuffle makes for a crisp album that I love to hear every year. I enjoy the entire album with the exception of their Christmas twist on “Baby Likes to Rock It.”

#16
Lee Ann Womack, A Season for Romance

Lee Ann Womack is successful in conveying a romantic vibe on this album that suggests just that. With her easy southern drawl, Womack knows her way around a gorgeous Christmas melody. Her fun side should not be ignored, however, as her version of “the Man with the Bag” is easily the superior track on the album.

#15
Travis Tritt, A Travis Tritt Christmas: Loving Time of the Year

Tritt rocks on songs like “Winter Wonderland”, adds a bluesy twist to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, waxes nostalgic on “Christmas in My Hometown” and reverently sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Nevertheless, he keeps Christmas in perspective as he philosophizes on the title track and, possibly naively, proclaims it to be the “most loving time of the year.”: “I wish I could bottle up this feeling/Pass out a little everyday/’Cause all the scars of pain have started healing/And troubles of this world just fade away…”

#14
Dwight Yoakam, Come on Christmas

Dwight’s signature quirky vocal style does not disappoint on this Christmas album. He does some standards and a few originals. His bluesy version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just may be the only version of that song that I like. Among the originals, the dysfunctional “Santa Can’t Stay” and the album’s sensual title track are the highlights of the project.

#13
Gene Autry, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Classics

Like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry’s name is simply synonymous with Christmas music.

#12
John Prine, A John Prine Christmas

Prine’s rough, unpolished voice does not try to navigate beloved classics that conjure up feelings of warmth and frivolity. Instead, he does what works best for him, which means writing songs that reveal insightful observations of real life. As a result, A John Prine Christmas is darker than a typical Christmas album.

#11
Alan Jackson, Let It Be Christmas

While Alan Jackson’s first Honky Tonk Christmas album is great, this one was recorded to appease his mother who requested a more traditional-sounding record. This one is especially good when hosting guests with mixed music tastes. Backed by a big band and orchestra, Jackson’s smooth voice navigates these traditional tunes with ease. Jackson’s original composition, the title track, is superb enough to stand with the revered classics.

#10
Martina McBride, White Christmas

Martina McBride made a safe Christmas album with all familiar songs, but she still managed to deliver an album that’s engaging and among the best of its kind. And as one might expect from McBride, she knocks “O Holy Night” out of the park.

#9
Toby Keith, A Classic Christmas

Toby Keith shows his generosity at Christmas time by making two Christmas albums (one of religious classics and the other of secular classics) and packaging them together for one low price. As a skillful interpreter, he treats these classics with both reference and fun as appropriate, with “Little Drummer Boy” receiving the coolest laid back production that I’ve ever heard on it.

#8
Lorrie Morgan, Merry Christmas from London

With the London Orchestra, Morgan is in fine voice and keeps up with the power accompaniment quite well. This is a beautiful, straightforward album that includes many classics and a sweeping version of “My Favorite Things.”

#7
Randy Travis, An Old Time Christmas

This Christmas album is exactly what one would expect from Randy Travis. If you like Randy Travis music and you like Christmas music, this one doesn’t disappoint. Highlights include his version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, Meet Me Under The mistletoe” and “Old Time Christmas.”

#6
Kathy Mattea, Joy for Christmas Day

Kathy’s warm, soothing voice is meant for Christmas songs. She sings some standards along with some awesome originals. The stand out tracks are the gorgeous “Straw Against The Chill” and the infectious “Unto Us A Child Is Born.”

#5
Garth Brooks, Beyond the Season

Garth’s first and best Christmas album sounds a lot like Garth Brooks music of the early nineties. Even the classics get the Brooks treatment, including a soulful version of “Go Tell It On A Mountain.” The highlights include but aren’t limited to “The Friendly Beasts” (in which he enlists the help of some of his songwriting friends), “Unto You This Night” and Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy.”

#4
George Strait, A Classic Christmas

Strait has as many Christmas albums as he has decades in the country music business. This album is far superior to the other two, however. While all of the songs are classics, he has recorded them with rootsy productions to match his warm vocals. Highlights include “Jingle Bells”, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Oh Christmas Tree.”

#3
Clint Black, Christmas With You

This album consists of all original songs composed by Clint Black himself. Most of it contains Christmas through the eyes of children, including “Slow As Christmas”, “Milk and Cookies” and “The Coolest Pair.” It’s fresh, fun and joyous, just as Christmas should be.

#2
Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow: A Mountain Christmas

As a follow up to Mountain Soul, Patty Loveless delivers a soulful bluegrass Christmas album that radiates Christmas warmth while injecting moments of festive frivolity as well. Appearances by Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rebecca Lynn Howard and Jon Randall are not necessary to strengthen this already masterful Christmas album, but they certainly help the celebration in a special way.  (For more on this album, read a review by guest contributor Stephen Fales.)

#1
Pam Tillis, Just in Time for Christmas

Most of the time, I want to hear warmth on a Christmas album. As is the case with many of my favorites, I like to be able to imagine listening to Christmas music by a cozy fire (though I don’t have a fireplace) and a nice mug of hot chocolate. With Tillis’ album, my imagination does not have to stretch very far, because it commands such images with its tasteful, jazzy production and Tillis’ naturally pleasant voice. This is clearly a country Christmas album, but it also manages to blend country elements with other traditional components that result in a perfect hybrid of torch and twang.

2009 Christmas Singles Extravaganza!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

TreeInstead of bombarding our readers with a million Christmas posts, we thought it would be more efficient to gather a bunch of 2009’s Christmas singles and provide a quick rundown in one post. So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on this year’s Christmas singles.

Carter Twins, “Let It Snow” (Listen)

This brother duo treats this lightweight classic with an unimaginative contemporary production. It does not bring anything interesting to the table and is, mercifully, an all in all forgettable track.

Carters Chord, “O Come, O Come Emanuel” (Listen), & “Santa Baby” (Listen)

It’s a shame that the most talented act (besides Keith himself, of course) on Toby Keith’s Show Dog label has not gained any traction in the last couple of years. It seems that, so far, the only way Carters Chord will be heard is through digital downloads, as their very good 2008 studio album was only released in digital form. Likewise, they have just released a 2-song Christmas EP that contains a pretty version of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” and a sassy interpretation of “Santa Baby.” Both tracks are well produced with prominent dobro and acoustic guitar in the mixes. “Santa Baby” is less whimsical and more assertive than the original version. “O Come O Come Emanuel” is well sung with beautiful sister harmonies and very few vocal gymnastics.

Darius Rucker, “Candy Cane Christmas” (Listen)

“Candy Cane Christmas” is a nice jazzy Christmas original that invokes warmth by tapping into the sweet feelings of anticipation for the big day. Rucker is a pretty decent crooner, which is what this song calls for. Over all, it’s a nice song, though not especially memorable.

Faith Hill, “Little Drummer Boy” (Listen) & “O Holy Night” (Listen)

Faith Hill has an inarguably top-shelf voice that is capable of various musical styles. So, it is disappointing that her 2008 Christmas album was good, but generally uninspiring as far as creativity or energy goes. As to be expected, she does these classics justice, but nothing more.

Taylor Swift, “Last Christmas” (Listen)

The song and the singer are meant for each other. Bad vocalist sings a bad Christmas song. She’s got better songs on her Christmas EP, particularly “Christmases When You Were Mine.”

Gretchen Wilson, “I Want a Hippopotamous for Christmas” (Listen)

Kudos to Gretchen Wilson for letting loose with the wackiest Christmas list wish ever. It’s fun, it’s infectious and it’s different. Score!

James Lann, “Mr. Grinch” (Listen)

This is just bad. Very bad. If you want a cool version of this song, not counting the untouchable original, seek out Aimee Mann’s funky version that will surely make you smile, unlike this pointless version that will only make you cringe.

Joe Nichols, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (Listen) , “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (Listen)

Much like Faith Hill’s Christmas album, Joe Nichol’s album is nice, but does not particularly stand out. As you’ll find with these songs, his voice is wonderful as always, but there’s still a barely perceptible something to be desired. .

Joey + Rory, “It’s Christmas Time” (Listen)

I love this husband-wife duo, as I’m sure is no secret to Country Universe readers at this juncture. This gorgeous Rory Feke original only cements my adoration. It is a sweet slice of life snapshot of Christmastime. I could say more, but what’s the point? Joey + Rory + Christmas = Beautiful Authenticity.

Marty Raybon, “Good Old Fashioned Christmas” (Listen), “One Night in Bethlehem” (Listen)

Marty Raybon is best known for being the lead singer for Shenandoah, one of the best and most popular pop country groups of the nineties. He has since left the group to pursue a quiet solo career that has garnered a couple albums that are more rootsy in nature. “Old Fashioned Christmas” is in line with Raybon’s solo career, inasmuch as it is an up-tempo honky tonk romper. Conversely, the pretty “One Night in Bethlehem” is similar to Raybon’s work with Shenandoah, which employs aggressive piano and other more contemporary elements. Both tracks, which can be found on a digital EP, are solid songs with the latter song being more substantive and, over all, superior.

Sugarland, “Silent Night” (Listen)

Interestingly and happily, many of the songs on Sugarland’s new Christmas album are the most country that we’ve ever heard from them. One of the standout tracks on this very good album is “Silent Night.” Jennifer Nettles’ vocal is flawless and the acoustic instrumentation is truly heavenly. As a nice surprise, Nettle’s beautifully sings the second verse in Spanish, in which she holds a college degree. This is, no doubt, the best Christmas single of 2009.

Review: Patty Loveless, Bluegrass And White Snow, A Mountain Christmas

Monday, November 30th, 2009

bluegrass and white snowA Guest Contribution
by Stephen Fales

“the night was freezing cold, from a heavy snow that day, we warmed our hearts on old time songs and danced the night away” — Gordy/Loveless

Back in 2001, Patty Loveless made a wondrous, rustic and rootsy album called Mountain Soul, a stunningly beautiful and highly acclaimed work of art. Mountain Soul was a natural evolution for the coal miner’s daughter Loveless, who has always been known for the passionate mountain sound that she brings to her award winning Country repertoire. Mountain Soul is potential realized, a bountiful harvest that Loveless continues to cultivate to this day, her current masterwork Mountain Soul II being her most recent offering.

Patty’s immediate and worthy follow up to the original Mountain Soul is entitled Bluegrass & White Snow, a Mountain Christmas With it’s stripped down yet sophisticated feel, this 2002 release has the quality and the character that entitles it to be called ” the Mountain Soul of Christmas records,”, It is that good.

Bluegrass & White Snow is an inspired, joyous and reverent labor-of-love from Patty Loveless and husband/producer (and genuine musical genius) Emory Gordy Jr. It seems that every project this talented couple undertakes is done with the golden touch of artistry and creative good taste, and their mountain Christmas record is no exception. What has made this classic a perennial favorite is the natural blending of two wonderful musical traditions, the organic feel of it’s acoustic production, and the warm and expressive voice of the finest pure-Country vocalist of our time.

Bluegrass & White Snow is an enchanting mix of Christmas Bluegrass and beloved traditional carols. This album has a warm and personal feel to it and rings with Appalachian authenticity. No surprise, since the Kentucky native invests so much of herself into the music with three autobiographical songs, and an open reverence for her family’s Christmas traditions and Mountain heritage.

The album opens with the Christmas lullabies “Away in the Manger”, and “Silent Night”. and Loveless gracefully covers such traditional carols such as “Joy to the World”, “The First Noel”, and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Her Appalachian alto is accompanied by ubiquitous mandolin, fiddle and guitar infusing a rustic flavor and giving these beloved carols an earthy yet elegant feel throughout.

The artistry of any Loveless/Gordy record often extends even to the album cover and Bluegrass & White Snow is one of the best examples. Here Patty “walks in beauty like the night” wearing the woolen coat-of-glory metaphorically alluded to in the original Mountain Soul. She looks every bit the Appalachian archangel in humble disguise, down from the mountain like a dream. She walks upon a cloudlike snow bank, an understated vision in royal blue and misty white.

Combine this with the clever title and the descriptive subtitle; it all conjures up scenes of mountain hospitality and beckons to the warmth of the music that is offered within. There, the listener will encounter Patty and Emory and their Holiday guests. A distinguished circle of musical friends that includes the finest talents in Country and Bluegrass music. Folks like Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill and Amy Grant. And the listener is embraced by this fine company in true Christmas spirit and is made to feel welcome and never left out in the cold.

All throughout, Patty’s vocals ring with pure silver clarity and warm golden tones. Her soulful voice sometimes seems to resonate in celestial dimensions and always conveys uncanny depths of emotion. “Joy to the World” is a beautiful example. It is a majestic Patty Loveless-Jon Randall duet and is the first of several carols to employ some creative musical accents; subtle wind chimes and wine glasses that seem to ring with Patty’s voice in resonant harmony like Heavenly tuning forks. They infuse the middle tracks of this extraordinary album with extra doses of Holiday enchantment.

“Carol of the Bells” softly descends upon the musical landscape like a surprise overnight snowfall, courtesy of the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble. It is an instrumental interlude saturated with mandolins that mimic harpsichords for a real old-fashioned feel. The subtle eerie overtones are from the wine glasses ringing with delicate magic, like crystal elvin bells. The whole piece gracefully turns into an extended instrumental introduction that Loveless uses as a springboard for her spellbinding rendition of “The First Noel”. With exquisite harmony provided by Trisha Yearwood and Claire Lynch, the three sound like a trio of down-to-earth angels singing their hearts out to the Heavens.

“Little Drummer Boy” is an inspired change of pace from the usual Christmas repertoire, and works brilliantly. Patty joins forces with a fellow Kentuckian and gifted young vocalist Rebecca Lynn Howard in a wonderful duet that blends two glorious voices in parallel melodic lines. The exquisitely interpreted lyrics conveys the song’s comforting sentiment that the Deity graciously accepts all heartfelt gifts, be they ever so humble:“I have no gift to bring par rum pum pum pum, that’s fit to give a king…shall I play for you pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?” Patty graciously shares the spotlight, and allows Miss Howard to shine. Howard’s clarity and Loveless’ warmth make for the perfect vocal blend. And in a departure from strict Applachian convention, a lonely recorder hovers over the musical proceedings like a dove, It is a brilliant innovation, and a musical benediction.

“Christmas Time’s A Comin’” heralds not only the Holiday, but also the Bluegrass section of this wonderful album. It begins with Patty setting the rhythm on sleigh bells, and Emory joining in with compelling acoustic guitar hooks. Then all Bluegrass Heaven breaks loose as Patty and friends run with the melody and twin fiddles fly. They all conjure up images of home for the holidays, Country style.

“Santa Train” is the first of three songs written by the Loveless-Gordy team, and once again, they demonstrate their talent as first rate songwriters. Their originals fit seamlessly along with the more established and traditional songs on this album.

The actual Santa Train runs from Pikeville KY, ( Patty’s birthplace,) to Kingsport, TN and provides Christmas gifts to Appalachian children in need. And if it sounds like Patty is singing from experience, it is because she’s been there. She saw Santa wave to her from the back of the train when she was a mere 6 years old, and as an adult has joined Santa as a volunteer spreader of Christmas cheer three times now, in ’99, ’02 and ’07. Indeed, with this musical version of the Santa Train, Patty has given children yet another gift and awakened the inner child within us all. “Santa Train” chugs along with plenty of fiddle and perfectly evokes train rhythms, Bluegrass style. There’s even a real train whistle played by Patty herself, and she sings out the stops like a conductor, calling out storybook sounding names like Shelbiana, Dungannon, Copper Creek, and Cady Junction. But make no mistake, this song, like “Christmas Day at My House” is fine Bluegrass
music. The quality of the songs themselves and the virtuosity of the vocal and instrumental performances raise both these child-friendly songs far above novelty status.

The album closes with soaring festive harmonies, as Loveless is joined by Dolly Parton and Ricky Skaggs for the album’s closer. The song “Bluegrass, White Snow” like the album that bears it’s name, is absolutely saturated with Appalachian hospitality.

Patty Loveless and her musical companions make a compelling case that Christmas music is meant for Appalachian acoustics and soaring mountain harmonies. And Loveless herself continues to demonstrate that there is nothing more powerful than a gifted artist deeply connected to her roots singing from the depths of her being.

By any standard, Bluegrass& White Snow is a fantastic record. The few rough edges that are present only serve to enhance the authentic feel of the album even further. Christmas music is just great music to begin with, and this is a Christmas album with a mountain soul. The exceptional quality and Appalachian flavor of this record makes it entirely suitable for year round enjoyment, in and out “of season”.

Loveless and friends celebrate the essence of Christmas giving; the gift of God’s grace and the gift of music. And as always Patty Loveless and Emory Gordy Jr. continue to give their all. This is their Christmas gift to the music world. Make it part of your tradition and you are bound to experience this sonic wonder as a musical benediction. As is so often the case with Patty and Emory’s work, their music will leave you spiritually and emotionally enriched, nourished and blessed.

Bluegrass & White Snow is truly the “Mountain Soul” of Christmas albums, the finest of its kind.


Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists: Christmas Edition

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

One of my favorite features to write for Country Universe is Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists. So, since I love Christmas music, it seems natural that I change the format a bit to accommodate a list of my favorite Christmas songs.

Narrowing my favorite Christmas songs down to twenty-five choices proved to be a nearly impossible challenge. In order to accomplish this feat, I had to do two things: (1) disqualify all quintessential versions of classics, i.e., Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” or any songs by Gene Autry. Instead, I’ve stuck to modern country versions of any classics that may appear on this list. (2) Limit the number of classics included on this list so that there can be room for as many original Christmas songs as possible.

You can listen to most of the songs and purchase them through the Amazon link at the end.  Merry Christmas!

#25

Asleep At The Wheel, “Christmas in Jail”

Merry Texas Christmas, Y’All, 1997

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel have a fun time with “Christmas In Jail.” The lesson he learns?: “Ain’t going to drink and drive no more.” Good!

#24

Roger Miller, “Old Toy Trains”

King Of The Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, 1995

I first heard this song as a little girl on a Raffi Christmas album, long before I had any idea of who Roger Miller was. So, after I discovered country music and Roger Miller, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this familiar song was actually written by Roger Miller for his son Dean. In this sweet and irresistible ditty, Miller is trying to coax his little boy to go to bed despite the excitement of Christmas

#23

Clint Black, “Til’ Santa’s Gone (Milk And Cookies)”

Looking For Christmas, 1995

This is sung from the perspective of a five-year-old who is getting ready for Santa’s impending visit. He knows what brings Santa back every year. Milk and cookies, of course!

(more…)

Discussion: Christmas Wish List

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

christmas-treeChristmas is nearly upon us.   There are certainly a lot of country music gifts out there worth having, ranging from books and DVDs to CD’s and box sets sets.

What country Christmas gift are you secretly wishing for this  year?

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