by Greg Cahill
The holiday season has inspired thousands of artists, from Will Ackerman and Elvis to John Prine and Emmylou Harris, to record their seasonal favorites, novelty songs, and everything in between (have you heard the Christmas Jug Band’s “Daddy’s Drinking Up Our Christmas”?). Many of us have a favorite set of songs that see the light of day around the festival of lights. Now you can add these five albums to that stack (or stream or whatever):
Tommy Emmanuel, Christmas Memories (CGP Sounds)
Tommy gets jolly on this joyful enterprise. This followup to TE’s 2011 holiday recording All I Want for Christmas finds the virtuoso fingerstylist in a set of cheerful combo arrangements, like “Christmas Time” and “White Christmas,” sometimes rockin’, sometimes sentimental. The album leans toward swing and features vocalist Annie Sellick. Truth be told, this is one of my favorite TE albums. And with a surname like Emmanuel, well, Christmas cheer comes naturally for this Aussie picker. His Classics and Christmas Tour kicked off on November 29 in Denver — check out all the dates here.
Lawrence Juber Trio, Holidays, Hollynights (Hologram)
Acoustic-guitar virtuoso Lawrence Juber is dazzling on the opener, a delicate fingerstyle arrangement of the Christmas chestnut “Deck the Halls,” replete with chiming open strings, ringing harmonics, and jingle bells, all backed by upright bassist Domenic Genova and drummer Michael Jochum. This is a straight-ahead, relaxing set of peaceful standards, all played with stunning technique: “What Child Is This?”; “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”; a Chet Atkins spin on “Sleighride”; and an upbeat, countrified take on “Blue Christmas” are among the 11 mood-setting tracks. You provide the egg nog and Yule log.
Loretta Lynn, White Christmas Blue (Columbia/Legacy)
Do you like your holidays with a splash of pedal steel and country comfort? Loretta Lynn’s first collection of seasonal songs since 1966’s Country Christmas features 12 new studio recordings made at Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee (I’m feeling the down-home jubilation already). The album kicks off with the country, bluesy title track, co-written by Lynn and bluegrass guitarist Shawn Camp, who appears throughout this must-hear disc. The tracks are a mix of originals (“Country Christmas”), standards (“Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas”), holiday novelty songs (“Frosty the Snowman”), and traditional carols (“Silent Night”). Co-produced by Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash.
Various Artists, Christmas on the Lam & Other Songs from the Season (Red House)
Charlie Parr dishes up the title track, “Slim Tall’s Christmas on the Lam.” Heather Masse warms you up with “Mittens.” And Robin and Linda Williams snuggle on the wistful duet “Together All Alone.” A laid-back, boogie-fied version of the Christmas Jug Band’s cheeky fave “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” featuring Jug Band alum and pub-rock legend Austin de Lone and guitarist Bill Kirchen, makes an appearance on this set of folk and alt-country tracks. John Gorka gets sentimental on “Holed Up in Mason City.” The Pines dig deep into their acoustic kitbag on “Song for a Winter’s Night.” Suzy Roche nearly steals the show with the Dobro-driven “Cold Hard Wind.” Larry Campbell provides the acoustic-guitar accompaniment to wife Teresa Williams’ stunning rendition of “Blue Christmas.” Jorma Kaukonen finger picks his way through the spiritual “The Baby Boy.” And the Wailin’ Jennys take us home with the rustic “Glory Bound.
Various Artists, Silent Night: Christmas Carols on Acoustic Guitar (Acoustic Music)
The mood is mellow on the opening track, Peter Auteschbach’s solo-acoustic recording of “Silent Night.” This 12 track collection brings together five of the biggest names on this German label known for stellar fingerstylists. The other players are Steve Hicks, Ranier Mafra, Thomas Ruez, and Erni Rissmann. Mafra’s spry acoustic spin on “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is as close as you’ll get to holiday kitsch on this recording. Interestingly, “Silent Night” pops up three times on this disc—in addition to Auteschbach, Mafra and Ruez have a go at that timeless carol. That trio of arrangements is vastly different and Ruez, especially, shows how far you can stretch this chestnut while delivering melodic goods. Highly recommended.