As usual, Nashville artists have a Santa sack full of seasonal music for your consumption.
We begin our two-part roundup of holiday listening with a stack of platters that includes offerings from country, Americana and bluegrass artists, plus even a jug band. Headliners on hand today include Kenny Chesney, Jerrod Niemann, The Swon Brothers and Jamey Johnson.
The Disc of the Day award goes to The Claire Lynch Band. The group’s Holiday! collection is one that I would happily buy. You should, too.
It says here that the Christmas Jug Band has been at it for 38 years. Call me behind the times, but this is my first exposure to the ensemble. So there’s your DisCovery Award winner.
THE HENNINGSENS/White Christmas
Writer: Irving Berlin; Producer: Preston Dalton & Spencer Dalton; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP; Arista (CDX)
—It lopes along at a gentle tempo. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh, so the sleepy vocals hardly even matter.
THE SWON BROTHERS/Run Rudolph Run
Writer: Johnny Marks/Marvin Brodie; Producer: Mark Bright; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP; Arista (CDX)
—This rocks with a solid backbeat, stinging electric guitar, rampaging organ and fierce vocals. Just the thing to heat up your holiday party.
DAN + SHAY /Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Writer: Hal Blaine/Hugh Martin; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Publisher: EMI Feist Catalog, ASCAP; Warner Bros. (CDX)
—Soulful, with a searing tenor lead vocal in a lustrous instrumental bed.
JERROD NIEMANN/Holly Jolly Christmas
Writer: Johnny Marks; Producer: Jimmie Lee Sloas & Jerrod Niemann; Publisher: St. Nicholas, ASCAP; Arista (CDX)
—This is probably my least favorite holiday tune. Niemann gives it a jazzy reading and the pickers provide swinging accompaniment, both of which mitigate its usually irritating, sing-songy melody.
CHRISTMAS JUG BAND/Santa Lost a Ho
Writer: P. Rogers; Producer: Tim Eschliman; Publisher: Dum Ditty, BMI; Globe (track) (www.christmasjugband.com/jugology)
—Apparently, this ensemble has been a holiday institution in the San Francisco Bay Area for 38 years. Who knew? Anyhow, their new Jugology CD compiles years worth of “favorites” including this goofy hokum ditty, complete with kazoo, slide whistle, washboard, clarinet and, of course, jug. A smile a minute.
LENNON & MAISY/Christmas Coming Home
Writer: MaryLynne Stella/Brad Stella; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Back 40 Entertainment (www.lennonandmaisy.com)
—The “Rayna Jaymes” kids on the Nashville TV show have a Christmas single that bops and bubbles along merrily. Their twin-like harmony voices are backed by a track that features bells chiming, snappy drumming and ringing electric guitars. Very listenable indeed.
OVER THE RHINE/Another Christmas
Writer: Linford Detweiler; Producer: Linford Detweiler & Karin Bergquist; Publisher: Scampering Songs, ASCAP; Great Speckled Dog (track) (www.overtherhine.com)
—This highly acclaimed Americana duo has a seasonal CD titled Blood Oranges in the Snow that it describes as reality Christmas music. Which means there is a wide range of emotions on it, including sadness as well as joy. This song, for instance, yearns for Christmas blessings in a world of sin, violence and pain. The aching delivery has you hanging on every line. Most of the collection is self-penned, although Merle Haggard’s downbeat “If We Make it Through December” is covered.
KENNY CHESNEY/Christmas in Blue Chair Bay
Writer: Kenny Chesney/Brett James/David Lee Murphy; Producer: Buddy Cannon & Kenny Chesney; Publisher: Sony-ATV/Basuare/WB/Songs of Brett/External Combustion/Old Desperados/N2D, BMI/ASCAP; Blue Chair/Columbia
—Simple and lilting, this relaxing ode to celebrating the season in the Caribbean goes down easily. The balmy ode is recorded acoustically.
THE CLAIRE LYNCH BAND/Heaven’s Light
Writer: Steven Sheehan/Claire Lynch; Producer: The Claire Lynch Band; Publisher: Reynsong/Scared Stiff/Universal Songs of PolyGram/Sound Cell, BMI; Thrill Hill (track)
—Let me just say up front that this bluegrass songbird is one of my favorite country vocalists. She and her band have released a simply stellar collection titled Holiday! It shimmers like new fallen snow, whether on standards like “Home for the Holidays,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Jingle Bells” or on newly composed songs like this star-at-midnight gem.
JAMEY JOHNSON/The Christmas Song
Writer: Robert Wells/Mel Torme; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Big Gasssed (track)
—Johnson has a five-song holiday EP with this as its title tune. He takes the standard at a languid pace, leaving plenty of space for the backing instrumentalists to shine. His baritone delivery is as smooth as silk. Highly recommended.
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