various artists,
O Christmas Tree:
A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays

(Rounder, 2002)

O Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection for the Holidays is Rounder's first collection of holiday bluegrass music, and they're off to a great start. Let me tell you straight up -- this album has nearly everything for everybody. Rounder has packed 18 songs from nearly as many artists. If you're into compilation albums that grab nearly everything across the horizon, then here's your Christmas bluegrass album.

For the sake of haste (it's a last-minute arrival, but a review does you little good after Christmas, right?) and brevity (you don't want to be reading this review 'til next Christmas, do ya?), here are some blurbs:

• Rhonda Vincent, "Christmas Time's a Comin'" -- It's a good choice to kick off a holiday compilation album; it's a true, fast-paced bluegrass song.

• Open Road, "Christmas is Near" & "Blue Christmas" -- Bradford Lee Folk's got one of those nasal yet forlorn voices that captures the feeling of every song he sings. Trust me, his "Blue Christmas" is as far a cry from the Elvis version as you can get.

• Shankman Twins' wicked "Winter Wonderland" & sexy "Here Comes Santa Claus" -- Stick with "Winter Wonderland" to the end. Dana goes nuts on her banjo while her sister Lauren burns up her fiddle. As for their rendition of "Here Comes Santa Claus," these girls make me question the innocence of this childhood favorite.

• The Johnson Mountain Boys, "The Friendly Beasts" -- It has an authentic sound but is slow and draggy.

• "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem" by Alecia Nugent -- That girl has a great voice and the instruments back her up in all the right places.

• "Silver Bells" by Ron Stewart -- Ron's got a draggy (but good) voice and plays all the instruments on this song -- very slow but in his style it suits.

• Jeannie Kendall, "Smoky Mountain Christmas" -- A graceful dobro by Bob Ickes complements Kendall's tender vocals.

• "Go Tell It on the Mountain" by the Cox Family -- This is an unexpectedly subtle version with great harmony vocals.

• Bill Grant and Delia Bell, "My Little Silver Bells" -- A real toe-tapper. This duet was recorded in 1984 and was never released. And they say nothing good came out of the '80s....

• "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" by Lynn Morris -- Yeah, I know, another version? It's OK, but she doesn't exactly reinvent this tired song.

• "Precious Child" by Tony Trischka with Dudley Connell -- This is a good solid mix of bluegrass and gospel. Dudley's vocals are a good match for Tony's Sterling Sunflower banjo.

• "Call Collect on Christmas" by James King Band -- No bluegrass or country album is complete without a song about a ramblin' man. Keep the phone nearby, 'cause you'll want to call your Momma after hearing this one.

• "O Christmas Tree" by Rhonda Vincent -- This has a faster pace than you're used to, with a nice mandolin solo.

• Tony Trischka, "O Come All Ye Faithful" -- A wonderful instrumental version that keeps it simple with just a banjo and a guitar.

• "The First Noel/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear/Joy to the World" by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver -- Nice medley with all-male vocals a cappella. Their overlapping on "Joy to the World" is fantastic.

• "Auld Lang Syne" by Bill Keith -- This is a remarkable song that is rarely used in a holiday album. Lucky for us, Keith has put together a wonderful version that should be played at any holiday party.

Whew! As you can see, this is quite a feast. Whether you want some great background noise or you want to put your feet up and really enjoy your eggnog, O Christmas Tree is a sure-fire hit for the holidays.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 21 December 2002