Nashville owns Christmas music.
For one thing the CCM genre resides here, and Christmas is the time of year that endorses what those artists do all year long. Country performers are also unafraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, which is what Christmas music asks you to do. So they annually turn in some of the best holiday albums. This sterling crop of platters even includes one from our pop/rock community.
The Disc of the Day belongs to Blake Shelton. But draw nigh unto Steven Curtis Chapman and Donna Ulisse as well. The DisCovery Award goes to Marie Miller for her creative take on “Silent Night.”
GORDON MOTE/Go Tell it on the Mountain
Writer: traditional; Producer: Gordon Mote, Ben Fowler & Michael English; Publisher: public domain; New Haven
—Session keyboardist extraordinaire Mote has had quite a year, performing at both the Country and Gospel Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. On his holiday CD, The Star Still Shines, he tickles the ivories rapidly on this traditional spiritual while singing lead fronting a rocking gospel choir. Recommended, as is the album’s super-rollicking “Hay Baby.”
BLAKE SHELTON & MICHAEL BUBLE/Home
Writer: Michael Buble/Alan Chang/Amy Foster; Producer: Brent Rowan & Scott Hendricks; Publisher: I’m the Last Man Standing/Ihan Zhan/Songs of Unversal/Almost October, SOCAN/BMI; Warner Bros.
—Country’s Entertainer of the Year has Cheers It’s Christmas as his holiday offering. On it, he teams with pop crooner Buble on this lilting, wistful ballad for those who are far from home during this season. Soft strings underscore two beautifully tender vocal performances.
MARIE MILLER/Silent Night
Writer: Marie Miller/Seth Jones; Producer: Seth Jones; Publisher: Curb Songs/Magdalen Spring/Tunes of R and T Direct, ASCAP/SESAC; Curb
—It’s the traditional carol, but this arrangement pretty much jettisons the original melody in favor of a cool, inventive pop tune. She sings in a wafty soprano with ear-catching flips up into falsetto notes. Strings sigh, guitars ripple and the rhythm section serves softly choppy backing while her vocals become ever more layered. Absolutely lovely.
JOHN ANDERSON/Christmas Time
Writer: none listed; Producer: Shannon Houchins; Publisher: none listed; Average Joes
—John Anderson is back! He can be found on the compilation An Average Joes Muddy Christmas alongside Montgomery Gentry, Colt Ford, Bo Bice, Josh Gracin and the label’s other stars. John is in fine voice on this simply produced country ditty. It’s just him, acoustic guitar, fiddle and some harmony singers, so it sounds like a demo. But it’s just great to hear his voice again.
DONNA ULISSE & RICK STANLEY/All the Way to Bethlehem
Writer: Donna Ulisse/Kerry Chater/Lynn Gillespie Chater; Producer: Keith Sewell; Publisher: Uncle Hadley/Chater Songs/ASCAP/BMI; Hadley Music Group
—The title tune to Ulisse’s holiday CD is performed as a duet between Mary and Joseph as her time draws near. The bluegrass accompaniment is sterling, as are the perfectly matched voices. The reason this album is such a welcome gem is that all of its 11 songs are new country Christmas compositions by her. Future country Christmas record makers ought to mine this collection for repertoire.
LADY ANTEBELLUM/A Holly Jolly Christmas
Writer: Johnny Marks; Producer: Paul Worley & Lady Antebellum; Publisher: St. Nicholas, ASCAP; Capitol
—Lady A’s holiday offering, On This Winter’s Night, kicks off with my least favorite Christmas song of all time. The big-band arrangement and the group’s flawless harmonies are mighty efforts toward making it listenable. Indeed, the whole CD is inventively arranged. It also features the whitest interpretation ever of the r&b chestnut “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
SUPE & THE SANDWICHES/I’m Gonna Be Santa Claus for Christmas
Writer: Michael R. Granda; Producer: Michael Supe Granda; Publisher: Missouri Mule/Bug, BMI; Missouri Mule
—This pop Nashvillian performs a truly autobiographical tune on his CD Cool, Cool Yule. The former Ozark Mountain Daredevil now has a white beard and is, indeed, appearing as Santa in the community this year. The quasi-Dixieland romp is full of good humor and cheer. Recommended.
STEVEN CURTIS CHAPMAN/Christmas Time Again
Writer: Steven Curtis Chapman/Caleb Chapman; Producer: Steven Curtis Chapman & Brent Milligan; Publisher: Chappy Campers/Primary Wave/Wixen, BMI; Provident
—CCM superstar Chapman has a new CD titled Joy that is half familiar favorites and half original tunes. Its single is one of the latter. It’s a soulful bopper with a nicely raspy vocal, a dandy drumming backbeat and some chesty male backup singing. This guy simply doesn’t know how to make a bad record. Splendid work…again.
FRANCESCA BATTISTELLI/O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Writer: traditional; Producer: Ian Eskelin; Publisher: public domain; Fervent/Curb
—Her version of this traditional is taken at a stately pace with her aching voice fronting a string section and piano. As the track progresses, extra voices enter, the strings swell louder, the piano becomes more elaborate and the overall texture becomes grander. You’ll find it on her CD titled, simply, Christmas.
SCOTTY McCREERY/Santa Claus Is Back In Town
Writer: none listed; Producer: Mark Bright; Publisher: none listed; Mercury/19
—Most of the Christmas with Scotty McCreery CD is comprised of familiar fare. He is surprisingly soulful on this blues chestnut, giving it oomph, rasp and growls in all the right places. He ends it with a “C.C. Rider” rave-up, Elvis style. The whole project is a Gold-selling pleasure.