NASHVILLE SKYLINE: A Christmas Shopping Guide

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

If I didn’t already have this neat stuff, here is what I would like for Christmas:

Patty Loveless ’ gorgeous Christmas album. Bluegrass & White Snow: A Mountain Christmas (Epic Records) is fully as exquisite as a twilight snowfall and as melodic as sleigh bells ringing on a trail ride through the snowy woods. You would have to go back to 1979 and Emmylou HarrisThe Christmas Album: Light of the Stable to find a work comparable in its seemingly effortless and lyrical country presentation of the Christmas saga. Interestingly, both albums share a few common songs: the bluegrass standard “Christmas Time’s a Comin’,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “The First Noel” “and “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem.” Loveless adds such gems as the title track and “Santa Train,” a new song about the annual Santa Claus train that rides through Appalachia to distribute toys to deprived children. Loveless is also an active participant on that Santa train.

Dwight Yoakam ’s first box set. One of the best put-together such packages ever. Far too many box sets are little more than collections of previously released songs, but Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years (Reprise/Rhino) draws upon many sources to present a thorough picture of Yoakam’s recording career. In addition to his hits, there are old demos, songs from radio shows, songs from tribute albums and soundtracks, and unreleased live tracks, as well as a lengthy booklet with text and many photographs. An intelligent presentation of a stellar country music career.

Bill Malone’s latest books. The new, revised edition of his landmark work Country Music U.S.A. (University of Texas Press) demonstrates anew why this groundbreaking work set the tone for country music scholarship when it was first published in 1968. This was and remains the most comprehensive look at the history and the societal role of country music. I also recommend Malone’s new Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class (University of Illinois Press), which is an incisive examination of how blue collar values influenced and shaped country music and how the music in turn determined those same values and traditions.

Billy Joe Shaver ’s new CD. As country songwriters go, Billy Joe is up there in the pantheon of the greats, along with Hank Williams , Harlan Howard , Merle Haggard , Dolly Parton , Loretta Lynn , Willie Nelson and the other giants. His new Freedom’s Child (Compadre Records) is both a soulful walk through his recent personal tragedies and a ringing affirmation of his resolve. This is the only man who ever threatened to whip Waylon Jennings ’ ass and lived to tell about it.

The new Creedence Clearwater Revival box set (Fantasy Records). John Fogerty is a whole lot more country than some popular Nashville country singers that I could name right now, and I think you know exactly who I’m talking about. Keep on chooglin’.

The Kindred Spirits Johnny Cash tribute album (Lucky Dog Records). There is a really good vibe in this record — these people truly love and respect Cash and his music, and that shows in their inspired versions of some of his work. Little Richard doing Cash? Oh, yes. He kicks some major-league ass here on “Get Rhythm.” Add Bruce Springsteen, Rosanne Cash , Yoakam, Bob Dylan, album producer Marty Stuart and many other notables, and you have some real good listening.

Hazel Smith’s charming country music cookbook. Hazel was the first person I met in Nashville when I first ventured here in 1970 or so, and I could not have found a better guide to country music and to Nashville. Much of country’s recent spirit and history is distilled in Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars (Dalmation Press).

And, of course, peace on earth (insofar as is possible these days).