Winter is Coming (Part One): Holiday Album Roundup
The tree is trimmed, the stockings are hung, and Black Friday shoppers have successfully reenacted a trashier version of Gladiator. What else is there to do this holiday season but crank up the stereo? Here are a few albums we’ve been enjoying lately.
Mindy Smith – Snowed In
Mindy Smith’s new five-song EP (three classics, two originals) is a welcome holiday collection, and her voice is just as stunning as ever. Snowed In opens with “Auld Lang Syne,” covered with just a hint of a Celtic flair; “Silent Night” and “What Child is This” are more straight-forward interpretations on piano/keyboard. The EP’s stand-out moments come when Smith sets her voice to her own lyrics. The record’s title track, “Snowed In,” is a hopeful wish to get stuck in the house and celebrate the sights, sounds and smells of the holidays with the one you love. It’s a celebration of the little nuances like the change of the lights on the tree and the temperature changes of the hearth fire, delivered with an intimate vocal over a simple acoustic production. The stand-out track is the grown-up lullaby, “Tomorrow is Christmas.” Told from the perspective of a parent tucking in their child on the evening of Christmas Eve, Smith weaves visions of Santa Claus, presents under the Christmas tree, sheep running up to be counted, hardworking elves, and letters written to the North Pole. It’s also on this track where Smith shows off a vocal range that reaffirms her place as one of alt-country’s most beautiful vocalists. This EP is a winner. –Ken Morton, Jr.
John Fahey – Christmas Guitar Soli with John Fahey
The stress of the holiday season can cause even the most laid back celebrant to snap like a candy cane. Luckily, there’s an antidote: Fantasy Records has released a new compilation of songs selected from American Primitive guitarist John Fahey’s four Christmas albums, which were released on his Takoma Records label from 1968-1983.
Soli boasts fourteen deftly played versions of holiday standards like “Silent Night, “Auld Lang Syne,” and “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Tracks from Fahey’s collaboration with guitarist Terry Robb, Popular Songs of Christmas and New Year’s, are among the most enjoyable moments of the record; the duo deliver a delightful medley of “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” before ending with a sparse and lovely take on “The Christmas Song.” The holidays have rarely sounded so relaxing. –Juli Thanki
Legacy Christmas – Treasured Carols of the Kirk
If Christmas has any real meaning, you’re not likely to find it circling parking lots looking for a space or overwhelmed by crowds in malls or stacks of big-screen televisions. No, the real meaning of Christmas can be found in giving to those who lack love and the necessities of life, like food, shelter, and clean water. Producer Melissa DuPuy, who also plays guitar and number of other stringed instruments here, captures the spirit of Christmas on this album of Christmas standards played in Celtic style. The proceeds from the purchase of the CD go to Living Waters for the World, a Franklin/Spring Hill Tennessee-based organization that seeks to provide clean water to communities around the world where it is lacking.
Alyth McCormack of The Chieftains lends her crystalline voice to “O Holy Night” and “Wexford Carol.” DuPuy’s ringing guitar and Deanie Richardson’s fiddle turn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” into a slow reel, and Richardson’s jaunty fiddle kicks off a dancing jig of a medley that includes “I Saw Three Ships,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” and “The First Noel.” In a Christmas season filled with the rush of shoppers flying here and there, this gorgeous album encourages us to slow down and listen closely to the angelic sounds of those old songs that celebrate the ways that love once changed the world. –Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.
Spooner Oldham, Oteil Burbridge, Billy Crain, Tammy Rogers, and Marco Giovino – The Southern Christmas Songbook and Hymnal
A roots music supergroup is a better Christmas present than a hippopotamus, front teeth, or a Red Ryder BB gun. This allstar quintet serves up instrumental versions of classic holiday songs without ever becoming saccharine, or worse, boring. SteelDriver and fiddle player Tammy Rogers leads a particularly lovely rendition of “O Holy Night,” and Spooner Oldham delivers a fine version of “Silent Night,” with guest Viktor Krauss on double bass. But Songbook isn’t just a collection of ballads: “Joy to the World,” which features the fantastic guitar work of Billy Crain, skews toward Southern rock. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” on which Oldham, Crain, and Rogers trade solos, is one of the best takes on the song you’ll hear this December. –JT
- Leeann Ward: Wow! How terrible for Dixie Hall and Tom.
- Ken Morton, Jr.: Another twisted collection of songs to put into the Friday Five Hall of Fame, Juli.
- Arlene: I'd have included "Omie Wise." Doc Watson's is the version I'm familiar with but I think it's been recorded by …
- luckyoldsun: I think the number one country murder ballad is "Frankie and Johnny"--by Jimmie. Also, how about "Delia's Gone" from Harry Belafonte …
- Juli Thanki: Colloquial use of "fantastic" as a synonym for "excellent" dates back to the 1930s. And if it's good enough for …
- Paul W Dennis: I think "Banks of The Ohio", "Miller's Cave" and "It's Nothing to Me" are far creepier than several of the …
- Paul W Dennis: The Hight article is interesting, although I don't know that I would describe it as fantastic, but then I know …
- Dana M: I'm actually excited to hear a new Reba album. As for the Alan Jackson tour, I hope he announces Canadian …
- nm: Agreed. A good job by three very smart women.
- Deremy Jylan: The Hight piece is tremendous reading.