Christmas carols go unplugged

Published December 1, 2004

The “Very Special Christmas” album series is some 15 years old now. Six albums later, the projects have raised more than $60 million for the Special Olympics.

Look for that total to rise substantially with the release of A Very Special Acoustic Christmas. The concept is a stroke of genius demographically and stylistically. The treatments are all acoustic and most fit within a country spectrum, which will appeal to a 30s and upwards demographic. This is a first for the series, which has stuck to the contemporary pop and rock formats for previous releases.

There is a nice balance between pop country and traditional country on the album, and the artists represent three generations of music makers.

Traditional Christmas carols are included, featuring veteran stars and acoustic arrangements. They include Silent Night by Reba McEntire, O Holy Night by Wynonna Judd, O Come All Ye Faithful by Patty Loveless, and Away In A Manger by Ricky Skaggs. They are balanced by secular 20th century pieces like Frosty The Snowman by Dan Tyminski, Please Come Home For Christmas by Willie Nelson, Winter Wonderland by Pat Green and I’ll Be Home For Christmas by Tift Merritt.

The roots country end of things is represented by some fine-picking instrumentals like Jingle Bells by Earl Scruggs and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by Sam Bush and the vocal-led bluegrass of Christmastime Is Near by Ralph Stanley and Christmas Time At Home by Rhonda Vincent.

Meanwhile, stylistic wrinkles are offered by the modern country crooner Just Put A Ribbon In Your Hair by Alan Jackson, the country blues piece Even Santa Claus Gets The Blues by Marty Stuart, and the original Only You Can Bring Me Cheer, which is a slick stylistic departure for Alison Kraus. The one out-of-place insertion is Norah Jones’ pop jazz treatment of Peace, which closes the album.

Christmas albums often serve as background listening for holiday gatherings. This release will likely have a longer shelf life than some of the earlier releases in the Very Special Christmas series — a not-insignificant fact in a genre that often succeeds seasonally as a seller for many, many years. As such, this is a release that may benefit the Special Olympics program and delight a broad spectrum of listeners both now and in the years to come.

Wilfred Langmaid is student advocate and lecturer in biology at the University of New Brunswick, and a priest in the diocese of Fredericton. He writes on popular music and religion for the Daily Gleaner.


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