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!
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Instead 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.