Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Spooner Oldham, Oteil Burbridge, Billy Crain, Tammy Rogers, Marco Giovino: “The Southern Christmas Songbook & Hymnal” CD Review

It’s that time of the year when we’re assaulted by Christmas music wherever we go. I can’t understand why stores insist on playing the same old garbage when there are actually some decent Christmas albums out there. Take, for example, The Southern Christmas Songbook & Hymnal. First off, all the tracks here are instrumentals, so the CD avoids one of the major pitfalls of Christmas music – the largely insipid lyrics. Secondly, you’ve got some damned good musicians here. Spooner Oldham is on organ; Tammy Rogers is on fiddle and mandolin; Oteil Burbridge is on bass; Billy Crain is on guitar; and Marco Giovino is on drums and percussion.

This is music that won’t necessarily annoy fans of the traditional fare, while raising the spirits of those of us who generally try to avoid that stuff. So if you manage a store, please consider putting this album on rather than crap like “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

The album opens with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” which has a southern rock folk vibe that I dig. So by the time that familiar section of the song comes round, I’m already completely on board. I’ve said it before – instrumental is often the way to go with traditional Christmas tunes, and this instrumental version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is excellent. I will be adding this to my Christmas play list. It has a fun vibe that this song usually lacks.

The fiddle is what really sells me on this CD’s rendition of “The First Noel.” It’s beautiful and clear and uplifting. And the guitar is excellent as it covers what would be the vocal line. The fiddle also plays a prominent role in “O Come, Oh Come Emmanuel,” giving that song a gorgeous Irish feel.

“Joy To The World”

Electric guitar kicks off the rockin’ rendition of “Joy To The World.” It’s the fiddle that then does what would normally be the vocal line. I really love the organ on this track, as it takes over where the fiddle leaves off. This one has a certain New Orleans flavor to it, which is cool.

“Angels We Have Heard On High”

There is always something pretty about “Angels We Have Heard On High,” and this version keeps that beauty intact while adding some nice touches on bass and guitar to keep things interesting. I really like this track a whole lot. It has a sweet, kind of comforting feel to it.

“Silent Night”

This album’s version of “Silent Night” is a fairly simple rendition, with some nice work on organ, playing that familiar line, with the bass strong beneath it. It’s short. They don’t do all that much with it, but it’s a nice rendition all the same.

The album concludes with “O Holy Night.” The fiddle takes the lead, with some accents on electric guitar and a nice beat below it. It’s a sweet version with a relaxed, mellow vibe.

CD Track List

  1. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  2. We Three Kings
  3. The First Noel
  4. O Com, O Come Emmanuel
  5. Joy To The World
  6. Angels We Have Heard On High
  7. Away In A Manger
  8. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  9. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
  10. Silent Night
  11. O Holy Night 

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