Gifts of Christmas...
Come in all sizes.
Traditions...how many of the traditions that your parents and or grandparents taught you do you keep true today? In our busy times that we live in, many of us have let go of those traditions. Through the years, time passes on and those traditions are lost among the memories stored within our minds.
Take the tradition of gift giving at Christmas... not to long ago, people gave gifts that were much needed by the receiver. Presents under the Christmas tree often contained new shoes, coats, mittens and other necessary items needed to survive the winter. Children of yesterday were quite lucky if they received a toy amongst their much needed items. Most toys back then were hand made from wood to create toy trains or animals. Dolls were often made with used socks and even corn shucks. It didn't matter what was under the tree, it was still given in love.
Stockings that were hung by the chimney with care were often stuffed with rare items. Back in the day, items like oranges, pears and various nuts were rare to get. Delicacies such as these could be found in stores, but were often quite expensive, especially up here in the north.
Now fast forward to today's world... Has the tradition of needs been over powered by our wants? We live in a society of always getting what we want that we tend not to know what we need. What is it that you need this Christmas?
One person who knows what is needed most is an entertainer who grew up in those traditional times. This past year has been a stellar year for Ms. Dolly Parton. Nonetheless, if you set aside Ms. Parton's vast achievements, she still knows what all of us need. After the triumph of her made-for-television movie Coat of Many Colors Ms. Dolly will follow that up with another film just in time for Christmas called Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. The movie will air on November 30th on NBC Network.
Perhaps the biggest gift that Dolly has given is the gift of a book. In 1995, she launched Dolly Parton's Imagination Library to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee. It was her vision to share her love for reading among the preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. Dolly wanted children to get excited about books and feel the magic contained within them, but more so, she wanted to insure that every child would have books to read, regardless of their family's income. The Imagination Library became so popular that in 2000 Dolly would make the program available to any community that was willing to partner with her to support it locally. Since then Dolly Parton's Imagination Library has gone from just a few dozen books to over 80,000,000 books mailed to children in the United States. Today, there are over 1 million books mailed to children each month. For more information about the Imagination Library please visit www.ImaginationLibrary.com
This past October, Dolly added another book to her ever growing collection of books she has written. However, this one is for the littlest Dolly Parton Fans. Coat of Many Colors is a beautifully fully illustrated children's book that brings Dolly's signature song, of the same name, to life. The book also comes with a free download of a new song by Ms. Parton.
Giving the gift of a good book is always a special gift. Although we may all not like the same types of books, giving someone the gift to read in the end helps all of us.
One book comes to mind for us adults. Just this year, Bill Anderson released his new autobiography called Whisperin' Bill Anderson: An Unprecedented Life In Country Music. This book is just as whimsical, as Dolly's book, as Bill tells the story of his life and career. You can read more about this book on our website.
Not to long back, people would give the gift of music. We don't mean albums, but real live music. Many people would pass the time teaching themselves to play a musical instrument and perhaps the greatest gift to receive is the gift of a song that was made just for you.
Music is given to us everyday. Nearly all the time we don't see it as a gift, but rather as someone's job with the delusion that the person performing the music is getting rich off their talents. Christmas is the perfect season to acknowledge this gift.
This year we have been inundated with a vast array of Christmas albums released this year. Here are the ones sent directly to us...
Wrapped Up In Your Arms For Christmas
2015 - Big Horse Records. Can you imagine how difficult it is to record a Christmas album? It's one thing if the songs were new and not the classic Christmas carols that we have all come to love. Most people have a tendency to compare new versions of the classics to the old versions, while always finding discrepancies. Every once in a great while we do come across a new adaptation of a classic song that out performs the original or well known version. This is not the case with Exile's new Christmas album. In fact we find more discrepancies than we normally do. Case in point the opening cut of Chuck Berry's classic song "Run Rudolph Run." When Exile first emerged onto the music scene they were known more for their rock and pop mentality than for country. They pay homage to Mr. Berry's performance with their rendition. But there is a minor, but key error as they claim that Mr. Berry wrote the song. In reality the song was written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie; it was first recorded by Mr. Berry in 1958. Since then nearly every notable entertainer through out all musical genres has recorded it. This album comprises of several other classics such as "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Little Drummer Boy," "O Holy Night," and a live rendition of "Silent Night." Each of these songs are performed in a more pop / rock mentality that may discourage you, particularly if you enjoy the simple standards that we have come to know. Ever since Kenny Chesney released his song "All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan," many entertainers have followed up with their own tales of celebrating the holiday season in the sun. Co-written by member Sonny LeMaire, Exile includes their whimsical song "Merry Christmas From Cancun." The boys try to give life in a cover of "Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy," which was co-written and originally recorded by Buck Owens. This too is another song that many entertainers recorded, however none more prominent than Brad Paisleys. Exile hails from Kentucky, the home of Bluegrass music. It's no wonder that the boys would include "Bluegrass Kind of Christmas." The song was written by Sonny LeMaire and JP Pennington, who are exceptional writers. Performed as a rock love ballad, the lyrics tell a story of going home to the love of your life in Kentucky. There is something missing from the song, perhaps it's the melody that trips us up. Either way it lacks the spirit of Christmas within the song. Pennington an LeMaire team up again with the help of Suzie Pennington to create "Wrapped Up In Your Arms For Christmas." Perhaps the best song on this album, this one captures the love that surrounds us during the Christmas season. However, we have to pass this one by as well as the melody has a heavy depressing feeling when it should contain a lighter more heartfelt mentality. The song itself is quite elegant and we believe that if it were recorded with a light airy melody it would become a timeless classic. The other song that stands out is a live version of "Go Where I Send Thee." It is always nice to see an entertainer add a unique song such as this classic hymn to their albums. In the end, we believe that this is Exile's last ditch effort to revive a career that really wasn't there in the first place. The entire album has an over all feeling of negativity and lacks the pleasure and excitability that the Christmas season brings to us each year. $$-$$$
We Say Merry Christmas From...
The Gatlin Brothers
2016 - Steve Gatlin Productions. Larry, Steve and Rudy give the gift of music this year as they will be performing their Christmas show at Gaylord Opryland's A Country Christmas. The Gatlins will begin performing their dinner show November 11th with thirty-seven more shows to follow throughout the Christmas season. For more information please visit ChristmasAtGaylordOpryland.com. If you are not able to travel to Nashville for their show, you can just imagine how incredible it would be as you listen to their new two-disc album. Although they have had a few hits over the years, We are not much of Gatlin Brothers fans. Like the snow that blows in when a winter storm approaches, we were blown away with this one! The first disk contains nine beautiful presentations of classic Christmas carols. The Gatlins keep to the traditions of Christmas with "Joy To The World," "O Holy Night," "What Child Is This?," "Silver Bells," and an incredible medley of "White Christmas" and "The Christmas Song." The first disk closes with the time-honored carol "Bring A Torch, Jeanette Isabella." The first disk is more classical, where as the second disk contains a little more modern and contemporary feel to it. The second disk opens with a beautiful rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy" and also includes "Mary, Did You Know?," and "Silent Night." The Gatlin's version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is perhaps one of the best with it's perfect harmonies and respected performance. The boys bring us back in time of the Lawrence Welk Show as they team up with the Lennon Sisters in a beautiful Christmas medley that contains "Little Town Of Bethlehem," "Away In A Manger," "The First Noel" and "Silent Night." Listening to this arrangement, makes us demand more from this collaboration. Larry lends his writing skills to four of the ten songs on the second disk including "Allelulia" and "All We Like Sheep;" each performed in a hymn like mentality. Where as "Christmas All Year Round" is a short, but powerful, tune wishing the whole world Christmas wishes. Nonetheless it's "No Star Tonight In Bethlehem" that stands out the most. Performed as a gentle ballad, the lyrics speak volumes about how Bethlehem may have been the place where Jesus was born, but today its a war zone. The most stunning of all these songs is the Gatlin's performance of "Carol Of The Bells." All the same, we have pulled one song from this incredible collection to hit our list of Top Songs of 2016, while earning a nomination in the Spirit Award's Song of The Year and Spirit of Christmas categories. This song is found on the first disk and is called "Heaven's Child." It's a simple but elegant song that speaks of the mother-son relationship of Mary and baby Jesus. We are more drawn to the first disk than the second, due to the pure sophistication in which the boys perform each of the classic carols. Listening to this one makes us want to travel to Nashville just to see their live Christmas show. This album is certainly worth its weight as it shares the gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. $$$$$
Rejoice, The Carols of Christmas
Maple Street Records. It seems like just yesterday, but it is almost a year since guitar legend Pete Huttlinger has passed away. During his short life, Pete encouraged all to live life to it's fullest as he shared his talent for bringing out the magic that was contained with his guitar. Guitar enthusiasts often marveled at the wizardry and trickery that Pete possessed when playing the guitar. With a smile that could light a thousand towns, his fingers danced among the frets to create a sound so awe-inspiring and breathtaking melody. We have always wondered if Pete recorded a Christmas album as we knew that he could bring his special magnetism to any carol. We were elated when we found out that in his career he recorded two Christmas albums. In this one, Pete surrounds himself with fellow musicians Jeff Cox, Gary Tussing, Anna White, Diane Davich and Craig Duncan to create a masterpiece of unbelievable instrumental renditions of some of the most popular classic Christmas carols. These classics include "Joy To The World," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night," "Angels We have Heard On High," "Away In The Manger," "The First Noel," "O Holy Night," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Huttlinger and company also include two medleys mixing "Good King Wenceslas" with "Up On The Housetop." But the most dignified medley comes when they mixed "Here We Come A Wassailing" with "Deck The Halls." One would never imagine the two together, nonetheless they are well composed. In our twenty-three years in this industry, we have found that some of the most appealing, wonderful and incomprehensible Christmas music contains not one drop of vocals. Enjoy the splendor of the season as you enhance it with the simplicity of instrumentals brought to us by Pete Huttlinger and friends. $$$$$
A Very Kacey Christmas
2016 - Mercury Records. Sometimes we wonder what the entertainers or the producers were thinking about when they are in the recording studios while creating these albums. This is especially true when it comes to Christmas music and even more so when it comes to Kacey Musgraves. Kacey has the perfect light and angelic vocals needed to perform many of the timeless Christmas carols. Nonetheless many of the songs contained on this album are less than what they should be. Case in point the opening cut "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," as it is performed with a Caribbean beat. Why would you destroy a beautiful song like that? Another great song that is performed less than her full potential is "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" In this song it's the melody that is perfect and Kacey's lack of pure raw emotions and believability that destroy this elegant song. Another that teeters back and forth from being good and bad is "Christmas Don't Be Late." Kacey does a decent job in her vocals, but as for the melody it sounds like a war between German musicians and French musicians. Pick one already, as this sounds awful. But not is all lost when you hear her rendition of "Let It Snow" as she gains the help from the Quebe Sisters making it sound like it was recorded in the 1950's. The Quebe Sisters lend their vocal talents to "Mele Kalikimaka" too. Kacey allows the child side of herself out in a new version of "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas." There are four songs in which Kacey shows her writing skills. The first we come across is "A Willie Nice Christmas" that features Willie Nelson and his guitar Trigger. Although it does not adhere to the mainstream subjects of Christmas, it is quite whimsical and cute with its delightful lyrics. Despite the fact that Kacey's vocals are the complete opposite of Willie Nelson's, we find it refreshing and enjoy Willie's good sportsmanship when it comes to songs such as this. Leon Bridges lends his vocals to a song written by Musgraves called "Present Without A Bow." There is something about this song that is lacking. Perhaps it is Leon's harsh vocals that take away from the song, but we believe its much more as the song is not one to seek. The same goes for "Ribbons And Bows." Performed in a more modern, pop, fake mentality - this one would have been widely accepted if it would have been performed in a 1950's mentality. The final song co-wrote by Musgraves is one that really needs to be sought out. Performed in a beautiful, slightly modern waltz, "Christmas Makes Me Cry," captures the true emotions that can come over many of us this time of the year. This song is sure to hit our list of Top Songs of 2016 and earn a nomination for the Spirit Award's Song of The Year and Spirit of Christmas categories. Perhaps the best song to truly capture Kacey's pure vocal talents can be found in her version of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." Kacey performs this one with such ease that it creates a sense of relaxation while you listen to it. But it also makes us wonder what a duet with Ms. Dolly Parton would sound like. Can you just imagine? In the end, this one does have a song for everyone, however, as a whole - it's best to purchase the singles that you like. $$$+
2015 - Instar Records. Towards the later part of his career, master musician Pete Huttlinger teamed up with Mollie Weaver to create a duo called Parnassus. At one time the two worked for John Denver, Mollie as a vocalist and Pete as a guitarist. The best part of this duo is the perfect match of elegant vocals mixed with the delicate acoustic guitar. The simplicity of this album brings a sense of gentle calmness within this hectic holiday season. This album encompasses the dignified carols that we all know including "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "White Christmas," "Winter Wonderland," "I'll Be Home For Christmas," and "Let It Snow." Mollie includes an unique version of "Silent Night" as she performs it in both English and German. This talented duo also incorporates a few of the lesser known carols from yesterday with "Christmas Waltz," "Snow" and "The Man With The Bag." The two take a trip down memory lane with their version of John Denver's "Colorado Christmas." Each of these songs are so beautiful and are performed with such grace that as a listener, you do not want it to ever end. Such is the case with their rendition of "In the bleak Midwinter." Since our first introduction to Pete Huttlinger, we have enjoyed his talents immensely. In listening to this one, there are times that we wish that we could just sit back and enjoy his picking with no vocals. It's not due to Mollie's lack of vocals as she can really hold her own. It's due to the fact that over the years we have celebrated Pete's vast picking talents that when you hear him perform, you just want to hear him. Our only complaint with this album is that there will never be another. Parnassus, did release another album - but that is all. Please join us and celebrate the talents of Pete Huttlinger and Mollie Weaver as you celebrate your Christmas. If there is one Christmas album that you purchase per year, let it be this one. You will not be disappointed. $$$$$
Mary And Joseph And The Baby And Me
2016 - Cabaray Entertainment. You never know what you are going to hear when you come upon a new album from Mr. Ray Stevens. Although Ray is known more for his comedic personality, nonetheless he has a split personality as he can also perform deep passionate songs just as well. This album is comprised of a variety of ten songs. The album opens with a unique and clever song that may appeal to children. In fact, we can see many children singing the title cut with it's fun chorus and peculiar take on the Christmas story. Written by Jeff Bates and John Ritter, the song tells the Christmas story through the eyes of the donkey that Mary rode to Bethlehem. Mr. Stevens includes several children's Christmas carols including a distinctive version of "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer." Even if you do not purchase this album, you really need to hear Ray's version as it is performed in a Vince Guaraldi-esc mixed with a School House Rock personality. Where as in "Frosty The Snowman" he adds a fresh new beginning then continues on as the typical song only in Ray's style which is quite entertaining. The expected comedy that comes with every Ray Stevens album comes in "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." The same goes with "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," as Stevens adds a new adaptation by adding 'Grandpa's' vocals to one of the verses. As entertaining as the first half of the album is, its the second half that is quite heartfelt especially with his version of "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Mr. Stevens makes a statement of how we should say Merry Christmas and celebrate the real reason for the season in his song "Merry Christmas." The statement is not as bold as the statement found "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day." Its the statement that reminds us of all the lonely people who do not have relatives around to celebrate this family holiday. The album closes with another beautiful, bold song called "Christmas Bells (In The Steeple)." Performed in a honest, heartfelt but warm bold melody; this song speaks about how we as a society have abandoned the real reason for Christmas - Jesus' birth - for the more modern belief of giving and receiving presents. This is one of two songs that we will add to our list of Top Songs of 2016 while earning a nomination in the Spirit Award's Song of The Year and Spirit of Christmas categories. The second song to hit our list is "Claws (A Cat's Letter To Santa)." Despite the fact that the subject matter can be construed as harsh by some, this is quite the entertaining song as you can only imagine what a cat would write a letter to Santa about. Ray Stevens does not disappoint us in any way as this album holds truth to his performing style of comedy meets reality, with a statement on the side. In the end, this is truly one entertaining album that is a must have to your collection of Christmas albums as we all need a laugh, especially this year! $$$$$
It Must Be Christmas
2016 - RCA Records. It seems to us that every year there is always one Christmas album that is disturbingly recorded using the base standard musicians that do not mix well with the entertainer's vocal talents. This year that album belongs to Chris Young. Now, Chris has a very distinctive set of country vocals that tend to cross between Randy Travis and Alan Jackson. However, no matter how much filtering the engineer does with them, it will not cover up the fact that his vocals are pure country. In listening to this album, using studio quality headphones, we find that the match between Chris' vocals and the instrumentals are like oil and water - they do not mix well! On one half Chris sings each of the songs on here quite well. Then on the other half the instrumentals are simply beautiful. But the fact remains when you try to mix the two it creates a menagerie of caterwauling that resonates pure babble. Case in point, "Under The Weather," is one song that they try to include an awful fake pop beat then when it comes to the chorus they switch to a more contemporary country beat then in the next verse its back to the fake pop beat. I'm sure the producer thought that this would stir the melody up enough to bring attention to the song, but in reality it destroys this otherwise beautiful carol. The same goes for a new Christmas song called "It Must Be Christmas." Again, if they would have performed this in more of a country melody and dropped the pop mentality it would have hit our list of Top Songs of 2016 with several nominations for the Spirit Awards, but not like this it won't. However the best example of an unfavorable and unpleasant song is found in "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." If we were to remove Chris' vocals and add them to a more of a country rendition of this song it would be perfect. But as is, it's purely horrendous. Especially when Chris comes to hold a note as the song demands. A little steel guitar and a lot less piano would have made the song worthy of our time. Alan Jackson lends his vocals to a new version of "There's A New Kid In Town." This popular song was written by the late Keith Whitely, Don Cook and Curly Putman and made popular by Alan Jackson when he released it on his 1993 album Honky Tonk Christmas. However, in this version of this fan favorite, Alan's more seasoned vocals out weigh those of Chris'. The same goes with "The First Noel," as he gains the help from Brad Paisley's more skillful vocals. What makes this one sound so unpleasant is that they do try to bring more of a country feel to it with the use of an electric guitar that just smashes the mix and not in a good way. But the song that Chris truly destroys is "I'll Be Home For Christmas," as he sings totally off key from the instrumentals. But if you really want to hear a bad mix, then listen to Chris' version of "Silent Night" as he gains the help from Boyz To Men. Boyz To Men and the instrumentals are a perfect match but when they add Chris' limited vocals to the mix, it makes you cringe to the point of turning the song off! This entire album is truly repulsive and is disrespectful to the talents of both the musicians and Chris Young's limited vocals. Through it all, there is one song that comes close in "The Christmas Song." Years from now, Chris will no doubt look back and ask himself why he ever recorded this album the way he did. This album is a perfect example of how much control the record label has on an artist as they went for quantity rather than quality. Hopefully, when Chris Young is finally released to do his own thing, he'll return to this album and record it like it should have been recorded - country style. We can not even acknowledge the effort as the people involved in this project really were not paying close attention. It makes us truly wonder if anyone said anything about the blend of vocals and instrumentals while in production? -$
2016 - Double B Records. Keith Burns, half of the duo Trick Pony, recorded two versions of this song. Performed in a western country beat, this song speaks about how a man made Santa's naughty list by making out with Mr. Caus' daughter. The original version consists of the word "ass." In the updated version, it sounds like someone complained about the word so the engineers went back and tried to cover it up with some poorly chosen noise. The original version is quit well done as this is one of the songs that takes a comedic side to this heartfelt holiday. Everyone needs a laugh and Keith lightens the mood with his song. If you do not offend easily, then you will certainly enjoy this one! As for those of you who get offended by everything...Merry Christmas! $$$$
Tangled In Christmas Lights
Cody Joe Hodges
2016 - Performed in a true Texan country melody, this one is quite whimsical. However, Cody Joe does not do justice to this song as we can hear the difficulty he has in hitting the notes. If someone were to work with him on his vocal abilities he may just end up in the minor leagues of country music. Although we must say it's nice to hear that traditional sound again. As for the song, it's quite ingenious as the lyrics use Christmas vocabulary to create a s sexual implication. The song - $$$$, Cody's vocals - $$
2016 - Sixth Beat Productions. The lyrics on this song tell a great story. The storyline captures the sights and sounds of a Christmas experienced in one's hometown. Nonetheless, this song is lost to Allie's limited vocals. The song would be best if it is sold to another artist. However, this song is written from a sixteen-year-old's perspective. Therefore, it may be hard to sell the song as is. One would have to change the lyrics a bit to fit the age of the singer. Why must every country song today have that slightly fabricated drum beat? Tone the beat down and make it country or the entertainer could stop promoting themselves as country. Either way real country music wins! It's Christmas so we'll score it high. $$
There you have it, all the new gifts of the season. Reviewing Christmas music is the most challenging as each of us has come to love certain versions of the classic carols. Nonetheless, hidden among the classics there is always one or two songs that demand our attention. Its these songs that we uncover and celebrate their beauty as we nominate them for the Spirit Award's Spirit of Christmas award.
It is true that gifts of the season come in all sizes. Some of the bigger packages under the Christmas tree contain the lesser joy then those that come in small packages. Then again the best gift of all can not be measured. For there is not one tool in the universe that can measure the gift of love...
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