DisClaimer: John Oates & The Time Jumpers Are Swingin’ The Season

john-oates-time-jumpers

Last week, we explored the raft of new Nashville holiday albums, so this week we’re listening to some of the shorter gifts.

So thank you, again, to Chris Young, Amy Grant, Jennifer Nettles and Kacey Musgraves for the finest Christmas collections of 2016. Only two of today’s discs are full albums, the ones by Neil Diamond and Jenny & Tyler. The second one was a completely unexpected delight and wins this week’s DisCovery Award.

As for the singles, I am giving the Disc of the Day prize to John Oates & The Time Jumpers. They are swingin’ the season.

NEWSONG/The Christmas Shoes
Writer: Leonard Ahlstrom/Eddie Carswell; Producer: Leondard Ahlstrom; Publisher: WB/Jerry’s Haven/Sony-ATV, BMI; HHM (CDX) (newsongonline.com)
—This CCM group will melt your heart with this outing. A little boy is trying to buy his dying mom a pair of shoes so she can meet Jesus in them when she passes away on Christmas eve. Written in teardrops and sung with soul.

ROBBIE ROBINSON/Carolina Christmas
Writer: Robbie Robertson; Producer: Mark Prentice, Doug Wayne Holmquist & Robbie Robinson; Publisher: Greater Influence, BMI; GIM (CDX)
—The song is okay, but this guy sounds as vocally weak as a newborn reindeer.

OLIVIA LANE/Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
Writer: Johnny Marks; Producer: Ilya Toshinsky; Publisher: St. Nicholas, no performance rights listed; Big Spark (CDX) (olivialane.com)
—This doesn’t rock with as much verve and personality as Brenda Lee’s original, but Lane is a strong vocalist with plenty of confidence, and Toshinsky’s production is flawless. Recommended.

NEIL DIAMOND/Christmas Prayers
Writer: Neil Diamond; Producer: Don Was & Jacknife Lee; Publisher: Diamondsongs/Universal Tunes, SESAC; Capitol (track)
—Diamond’s yuletide offering is titled Acoustic Christmas. Among the musicians are such longtime Nashville favorites as Richard Bennett and Matt Rollings. Seven of the tunes are public-domain standards given new arrangements by the star. Four are lesser-known holiday tunes written by others (including Leadbelly and The Weavers). And then there are his own two newly-penned numbers, “#1 Record for Christmas” and this ballad for loved ones who have passed away, but left cherished memories behind. Tender and sentimental.

The DisCovery Award goes to Jenny & Tyler.

The DisCovery Award goes to Jenny & Tyler.

JENNY & TYLER/Christmastime
Writer: Tyler Somers/Trent Monk/Jenny Somers; Producer: Ben Shive; Publisher: Residence/One Eyed Cat/Trent Monk Wholelotaracket, BMI/ASCAP; Residence (track) (jennyandtyler.com)
—This Nashville Americana duo’s CD is titled Christmas Stories. It leads off with this gently swaying ditty that’s infused with nostalgic holiday images. His slightly raspy voice has fireside warmth, and her wafting soprano is as soft as a snowflake. This collection is definitely the discovery of the season. Whether taking on standards like “Winter Wonderland” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or offering originals like this and the piano instrumental “Gloria Immanuel” they are a sonic delight. And you have probably never heard more inventive arrangements of “O Holy Night” and “Handel’s Messiah” in your life.

JOHN OATES & THE TIME JUMPERS/Santa Be Good to Me
Writer: John Oates/Josh Charles/Steven Davis/Alissa Moreno; Producer: John Oates & David Kalmusky; Publisher: Oates Shul/Painted Desert/Nolanyc/Streams of Gold/First Second, BMI/ASCAP; Elektra
—This gets major bonus points for coming to us via a green-vinyl 45 r.p.m. single. With The Time Jumpers on board, you know it has to have the most delightful swing groove. The jazziest yule tune of the year.

RAY STEVENS/Mary and Joseph and the Baby and Me
Writer: Jeff Bates/John Ritter; Producer: Ray Stevens; Publisher: Melrose Nashville/Landa/Lutz, BMI; CabaRay (CDX) (raystevens.com)
—With a light Bo Diddley beat, groovy retro backup singers and synth strings backing him, Ray offers a very cute new Christmas tune, sung from the point of view of the donkey. Stay tuned for the mid-song braying and bop right along. Super enjoyable.

THE RICK CAVENDER BAND/Christmas Time Again
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; RCB
—Melodic and eminently listenable, with a confident, pop lead vocal, solid acoustic guitar work and a piano solo.

CYNDI LAUPER & ALISON KRAUSS/Hard Candy Christmas
Writer: Carol Hall; Producer: Tony Brown & Cyndi Lauper; Publisher: Daniel/Otay/Universal, ASCAP; Sire (track)
—I love the sad holiday songs, and this one’s one of the saddest. It has that smiling- through-tears quality that is so heart tugging. Krauss takes the second verse with a breathy whisper and shadows Lauper in perfect soprano harmony elsewhere. A lovely job on a lovely tune.

ROBBY JOHNSON/Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Writer: Johnny Marks; Producer: James Stroud; Publisher: none listed; Contrast Music (track) (robby-johnson.com)
—This is a lively, rocked-up version of this standard. Johnson has a solidly country delivery and the chorus folks shouting along sound like they’re really excited.

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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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