A bumper crop of CDs by country artists brightens this year’s Christmas offerings. As we begin the final countdown to the big day, a roundup of this year’s holiday titles is in order.
On the women’s side, albums by contemporary singers Suzy Bogguss and Deana Carter join offerings from veteran songstresses Anne Murray and Olivia Newton-John. The main common thread -– apart from the holiday theme –- is that the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” appears on all four CDs (“Silent Night” and “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” -– with differently spelled titles — are on three).
For the aptly-titled Father Christmas (Rounder), Carter is joined by her father Fred Carter for a truly handmade album recorded in the Carter homestead in Nashville. Fred Carter, a well-known session guitarist who has played with artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Paul Simon, adds his jazz-inflected guitar to 10 songs, with a hidden track. In addition to the aforementioned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Let It Snow” and holiday chestnuts such as “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas,” father and daughter perform father’s co-written (with Conway Twitty , under his real name, Harold Jenkins) song “Johnny’s Snowman.”
Bogguss has recorded Christmas songs in past years with the late Chet Atkins and presents two of them on album for the first time on her Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Loyal Dutchess). Atkins accompanies her on guitar on “Mr. Santa” (a variation on “Mr. Sandman”) and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Bogguss also sings her own co-written (with her co-producer and husband, Doug Crider) song “Two-Step ‘Round the Christmas Tree.” The big surprise on the album is a very simpatico duet with Delbert McClinton on a coy version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
Three-time CMA Award winner Murray returns with the two-CD, 28-song What a Wonderful Christmas (StraightWay). She covers a wide array of traditional songs, a six-song Santa medley and the sometimes forgotten African-American Christmas folk song “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Murray also presents three choral and brass quintet variations on the 15th century English carol “The Coventry Carol.”
CMA female vocalist of the year Newton-John offers The Christmas Collection (Hip-O) featuring collaborations with several artists. Vince Gill joins Newton-John for “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” and “Away in a Manger,” with backing by the London Symphony Orchestra on both songs. She also is joined by Kenny Loggins on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Loggins and Newton-John team with Clint Black for renditions of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “White Christmas.”
Among country males, Aaron Tippin , Dale Watson , Lee Greenwood and Paul Overstreet have new Christmas projects. “Silent Night” appears on three sets. Watson mostly eschews the standards in favor of his own honky-tonk compositions, but he does include “The Christmas Song” and “Silver Bells.”
Tippin’s A December to Remember (Lyric Street) features the title track, a romantic original by Tippin and his wife and songwriting partner, Thea Tippin. “He Said He Was Jesus,” by the Tippins and Philip Douglas, explores the familiar theme of encountering Christ in the person of “a bum off of the street.” Thea duets with Aaron on “Away in a Manger” and the title track. “It’s a Good Thing Santa Ain’t Single” and “Run Rudolph Run” are in the vein of Tippin’s rockin’ country.
Overstreet, winner of two CMA awards as co-writer of “On the Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever, Amen,” starts Christmas, My Favorite Time of Year (Scarlet Moon) with “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” In all, his set includes six originals, among them “Merry Christmas Mary,” co-written with Don Schlitz, his songwriting partner on the award-winning songs. In “Wise Men Still Seek Him,” the trio in the title give “ol’ Herod” the brush off.
Greenwood’s 11-track set of standards, also titled Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (FreeFalls Entertainment) will appeal to fans of his high-tenor voice. Perhaps Greenwood fancies himself as a budding Kenny G. He does his own saxophone solos on two tunes, and he plays “What Child Is This?” and a medley of “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” as soprano sax instrumentals.
Watson offers an anti-dote to all the sweetness and light of the season with his engagingly salty Christmas Time in Texas (Audium), recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis. Joy White duets with Watson on the lascivious “Christmas Love.” “Christmas in Vegas,” with Jordanaires-style backing vocals, isn’t exactly seasonal, since it proclaims “every day’s Christmas in Vegas.” “Honky Tonk Christmas” is self-explanatory, as is the swinging “Santa and My Semi” (featuring a “gear-jamming Kris Kringle”).
Happy yule, y’all.