DISClaimer Single Reviews (12/21/10)

I dread this column every year.

It’s not that I don’t like Christmas. Far from it. It’s just that so much bad music gets recorded in its name. And, as usual, there is far more of it than I can hope to cover in a column. Among the many left “out in the cold,” so to speak, are Clay Walker, D.J. Miller, Jackie Evancho, Suzy Bogguss, Jeff Cook, Pat Garrett, Sherwin Linton and Liz Anderson.

Working with what we could get into a review session, Highway 101 wins our Disc of the Day for this holiday season. They still sound sensational. Other recommendations for stocking stuffers are Mandy Barnett, Point of Grace and the cast of Glee.

Surprisingly, there are several DisCovery Award contenders. Rachel Holder and Danielle Car both sound like they have the pipes to become stars. But how can you deny an album called Merry Ex-mas, devoted to holiday songs for the divorced? Besides, just look at the names of the folks who’ve banded together as The Irreconcilables.

HIGHWAY 101/Six Gold Coins
Writer: Curtis Stone/Cactus Moser/Brian Henningson/Clara Henningson; Producer: Cactus Moser & Curtis Stone; Publisher: Cactus Doin’ Work/Hometown Jamboree/Skyline/Cactus Moser, ASCAP/BMI; Keytone (CDX) (www.highway101.net)
—This is drawn from the band’s DVD Christmas on Highway 101. It is arguably the best new original holiday tune of 2010. Nikki’s lead vocal is packed with emotion, and the band’s support is stellar. The ballad’s striking lyric is based on gold coins that anonymous donors drop into Salvation Army bell ringers’ kettles every year.

Writer: Andrew Peterson; Producer: Nathan Chapman & Stephanie Chapman; Publisher: New Spring, ASCAP; Word (CDX)
—The album is titled Home for the Holidays, and if there are any voices in Nashville who are more suited to Christmas music, I have yet to hear them. This new Yule song is a sweet, acoustic ballad about the event in the manger 2010 years ago.

Writer: Don Pfrimmer/Will Robinson/Mike Reid; Producer: Fred Bogert, Mike Reid & Will Robinson; Publisher: EGBG/Detect an Intruder/Rivers and Roads, ASCAP/BMI; Merry Ex-Mas (track)
—New here’s a concept: Holiday songs for the divorced. The CD’s title is, naturally, Merry Ex-mas. It kicks off with this groovy, jazzy/bluesy outing. The track swings, and lead vocalist Joanna Cotten delivers the lyric with plenty of sass. Santa, you see, is a cheater. The other Irreconcilables are Fred Knobloch, Perry Danos, Paige Bainbridge, Danger Will (Robinson) and Oscar Franks.

MANDY BARNETT/Winter Wonderland
Writer: Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith; Producer: Mandy Barnett; Publisher: WB, ASCAP; Rounder/Cracker Barrel (track)
—Mandy has the most “classic” sounding holiday disc of the year. All the tunes are standards, and the players are such A-listers as Harold Bradley, Hoot Hester, Gary Prim and Tony Migliore. This is the CD’s title tune and track #1, and it’s a sprightly outing, laced with plenty of Lloyd Green’s steel. Her vocal is, of course, flawless. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes.)

DR. ELMO/Come On Boys, It’s Christmas
Writer: Potterton/Manry; Producer: Gary Potterton; Publisher: none listed, BMI; Laughing Stock/Time Life (track)
—“Dr. Elmo” is banjo playing Elmo Shropshire. If that doesn’t ring a bell, how about “Elmo & Patsy” who originated the classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer?” On his Bluegrass Christmas CD, he proves conclusively what a fluke that was. He can’t sing.

BURNS & POE/Hear The Angels Singing
Writer: Keith Burns/Michelle Poe; Producer: none listed; Publisher: Banshee/Bana Bear/Crane Wreck/Studio 33 Music Group/Poe Haus, BMI/SESAC; Blue Steel (www.burnsandpoe.com)
—Another new contribution to the Christmas repertoire. This one is a gentle ballad that features both vocalists singing softly to delicate, tinkling, acoustic accompaniment. Their harmonies on the choruses are just lovely.

GLEE/The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
Writer: J. Marks; Producer: Adam Anders & Ryan Murphy; Publisher: St. Nicholas, ASCAP; Columbia (track)
—New cast member and native Nashvillian Chad Overstreet (Paul’s son) makes his disc debut on the Glee Christmas Album with this track. He plays “Sam” and gets several hearty standout lines during the ensemble singing of this standard. The male-male pairing of “Kurt” and “Blaine” on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is raising eyebrows and getting lots of attention, but the rest of the Glee cast’s tracks are equally listenable.

BRITTANY ALLYN/Christmas Has A Way
Writer: Brittany Allyn; Producer: Chris Nole; Publisher: Mighty Pen, BMI; Mighty Pen (track) (www.brittanyallyn.com)
—The title tune to Allyn’s holiday collection is thin sounding. Plus, her singing sounds timid and tentative.

DANIELLE CAR/Save Your Cookies For Me
Writer: Danielle Car; Producer: Chuck Alkazian & Danielle Car; Publisher: none listed, BMI; DC (www.daniellecarmusic.com)
—This Detroit gal lays into this bluesy lament with blow-torch heat. She’s got some serious vocal firepower. By all means, lend her your ears.

LEE BRICE/O Holy Night
Writer: traditional, arranged by Lee Brice /Doug Johnson; Producer: Doug Johnson & Lee Brice; Publisher: public domain, arrangement Mike Curb/Sweet Hysteria/Sweet Radical, BMI; Curb (CDX)
—It wouldn’t be Christmas without a new version of “O Holy Night.” The song’s dynamics generally call for a vocalist of range, might and power. I wouldn’t think this guy would have the chops for it. And he doesn’t.

Writer: Chris Frasca/Maria Chistiansen; Producer: Chuck Howard, Wilbur Rimes, Elmer Cole & Kevin Moore; Publisher: none listed; All Entertainment (www.rachelholder.com)
—At last! Some tempo. This toe-tapping bopper is underscored by slapping snare and bubbling bass. She sounds like she’s having a ball with this sexy little romance lyric. Deserving of massive airplay.


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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