Sugar Hill Records, Inc.
P O Box 55300
Durham, NC 27717-5300
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky
Sometimes it seems like just about anyone can get away with a Christmas album in the month of December. When listeners are surrounded by wrapped presents and evergreen wreaths and nativity scenes, all it takes in someone who can rhyme "eggnog" with "yule log" to evoke a little seasonal mood in your audience.
But I'm listening to Tinsel Tunes in February, time of chocolate hearts, insomniac groundhogs, and dead presidents. Any recording that can evoke a positive Christmas spirit when the mind is otherwise distracted by seed catalogs and spring training has got to have the right stuff, and this CD definitely delivers the goods. Tinsel Tunes is a sequel to Sugar Hill's previous Christmas anthology, Sugar Plums. Like its precursor, it features the stars of its primarily acoustic roster in a wide variety of mostly unreleased seasonal songs. And when you're talking about a line-up as impressive as Sugar Hill's, you know you'll be in for a treat.
Given a generous selection of fourteen tracks, I can only begin to hint at the highlights contained herein. Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen lead off with a Buck Owens tune, Blue Christmas Lights, in a sincere retro-Bakersfield style. Mollie O'Brien, who has some of the most spectacular vocal chops in acoustic music, delivers an effectively understated version of the traditional number In the Bleak Midwinter, accompanied solely by the dobro of Jerry Douglas. Another fine female vocalist, Kathy Kallick, sings a gently gorgeous version of Roy Forbes' beautiful Ring the Bells at Midnight. The Brother Boys' distinctive dual harmonies bring a fresh approach to the classic I'll be Home for Christmas, while the Lonesome River Band incorporate a little electric guitar and drums in order to countrify their rendition of All I Want Is Mary for Christmas. The always adventurous quartet, Chesapeake, ventures into Bob Wills territory with a hip western swing original, Christmas Swing, while Don Dixon and Marti Jones take a contemporary rhythm and blues approach to Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday. Mandolin fanatics will also find something in their stocking, courtesy of Sam Bush's lively treatment of Sleigh Ride, and young Chris Thile's sensitive arrangement (accompanied by guitarist Scott Nygaard) of Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella.
There are only two tracks on Tinsel Tunes that have been previously released elsewhere, and both are perfect choices. The Last Month of the Year is a first-class collaboration between the Nashville Bluegrass Band and the Fairfield Four from the former's Unleashed CD, while Robert Earl Keen's modern classic of form meeting dysfunction, Merry Christmas from the Family, is represented by the live version from his No. 2 Live Dinner recording. Also included on Tinsel Tunes are tracks from the Laurel Canyon Ramblers and Psychograss, as well as the NBB by themselves. So what are you waiting for? There are only 304 shopping days left 'til Christmas as I write this. Tinsel Tunes will give you Grinch-less Christmas pleasure any month of the year.
Edited by Jeff Wenning