Patty Loveless,
Bluegrass & White Snow
(Sony, 2002)

Patty Loveless has been making music since the 1980s, so this Christmas offering is way overdue -- but it's already one of my favorite (from well over 100) Christmas albums.

This is one of the most traditional country Christmas albums, yet it's very different from Reba's Merry Christmas to You. That album included plenty of steel and fiddle. There is no steel guitar here, but there's lots of mandolin and similar instruments.

Seven of the first eight tracks are Christmas standards, but Patty sings them so well against the traditional country musical backing, I don't mind -- there's a huge market for albums full of familiar Christmas songs. Backing vocals by Claire Lynch, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Emmylou Harris on some of these tracks emphasise the quality of these songs.

The other track among these eight is an instrumental version of "Carol of the Bells" (on which Patty has no part) -- it's very nice, but it would have been even better with vocals.

For Christmas music fans, like me, the more interesting tracks are the last five. "Christmas Time's a-Coming" is a bluegrass standard -- I first heard it on Emmylou's Light of the Stable Christmas album (indeed, a lot of the songs on that album are included here). "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" has been covered by a lot of singers down the years, but nothing like as many as some of the other standards.

The other three tracks (all upbeat, happy songs to get you in the festive mood) were written by Patty with her husband Emory Gordy Jr., who produced the album. The final (title) track features backing vocals by Ricky Skaggs and Dolly Parton, though Dolly's voice is more clearly heard than Ricky's.

If you have any interest in traditional country music, this is an essential album for Christmas listening -- together with Reba's Merry Christmas to You, which I've already mentioned.

- Rambles
written by Peter D. Harris
published 9 August 2003

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