Three 2019 Roots Christmas Albums reviewed

The McCrary Sisters A Very McCrary Christmas Rounder Records

A “Respect Yourself”-groove infused “Go Tell It On the Mountain” opens A Very McCrary Christmas, the most exciting seasonal collection that has come my way this very rootsy December.

This is an incredible, uplifting hour of soul-filled songs, many of the traditional variety, but so inspired in their arrangement. I’ve appreciated the McCrary Sisters in a variety of recorded settings, as they have appeared with any number of Fervor Coulee favourites—Margo Price, Mary Gauthier, Scott Ramminger, Paul Thorn, and tribute sets to Roger Miller and Paul McCartney—but this is the first time I’ve encountered an album of their music. Their approach to gospel music balances soul with devotion, and these mostly familiar songs have ruined me for other interpretations.

Not being as familiar with their history as I should be, it skittered through my brain that they reminded me of a female Fairfield Four; my embarrassment of learning their family connection to the esteemed gospel group needs to be shared: their father was Rev. Samuel McCrary, an early member of the Fairfield Four.

Viktor Krauss (bass) appears throughout, and his sister sings on one number (“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”) which is a very nice treat, and other notable names including Buddy Miller (“What Child Is This?”)  and Keb’ Mo’ and Jerry Douglas (“Away In A Manger”) drop by, but the focus is entirely on the voices of these incredible ladies.

If you buy only one Christmas album this year, make it A Very McCrary Christmas. Your tinsel-draggin’ dancin’ feet will say, ‘Thank you.’

Highlights: Mentioned songs as well as “Joy To The World,” “No Room At the Inn,” Regina McCrary’s original “Here I am Lord, Send Me,” and every other song. No filler.

Silent Winters Christmas Morning Fallen Tree Records

But if you buy two Christmas albums this month, make sure Christmas Morning is the second.

More traditional for roots-minded folks perhaps, Ottawa’s Silent Winters makes their Fallen Tree-label debut with this quaint little set. Olenka Bastian and Jonathan Chandler bring their harmonious, duet singing to nine Christmas classics along with the original title track. With turnabout being fair play, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is given another chance, and provides evidence that context and perspective are everything.

Not positive it is 100% acoustic, but it sounds like that is a safe guess. With minimal accompaniment (Carissa Kiopoushak contributes violin to three tracks including a tender “O Holy Night,” while Peter Bon Althen drums on half the tracks) the album is incredibly intimate, breaths and subtle lip percussions audible: one feels witness to a very special session. The original song “Christmas Morning” is an immediate favourite: “So I’ll send you this love to mend what’s torn, And hope it finds you safe and warm.”

A quiet, warm, and fresh-sounding approach to the season.

Highlights: Mentioned songs as well as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters Christmas on a Greyhound Bus Organic Records

Better make it three.

Asheville, North Carolina’s Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters have been a Fervor Coulee favourite for many years, and their brand of Appalachian Honky Tonk never gets old to these ears.

This five song EP mixes a pair of stunning originals with choice covers, making it a fine little stocking stuffer for those who take care of themselves, or have others who give a darn about fine musical choices.

“Christmas on a Greyhound Bus” is about as maudlin a country Christmas song I’ve heard: a walkaway note, a sweating Salvation Army Santa, and a bottle of tequila being slowly downed on a bus heading toward Las Vegas…and that is just the introductory verse and chorus. Matt Smith lays out some nice guitar work on this one, pedal steel and electric. Man, I wish this band would travel north someday—I would love to experience them live.

The second original, “One For the Ages,” is more homey, a bit nostalgic for Christmases past until one zeroes in on the lyrical tone. Another fine, bittersweet Platt creation.

“Santa Looked a Lot Like Santa” is pure fun, and “Pretty Paper” will always be appreciated. The wee set closes with a spirited rip through “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” a song with more to do with the Christmas season than most standards.

Five songs, less than twenty minutes—not nearly enough when it comes to Platt & the Honeycutters. Need to head to the shelves to give On the Ropes or Me Oh My another listen.

Highlights: all of it. Damn good.

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