Country's Top 10 Christmas CD's
By Chris Neal
1. Deana Carter Father Christmas (Deanatone/Rounder Records)
Deana Carter has always done things her own way. So after stepping off the music-biz treadmill following 1998's Everything's Gonna Be Alright, it's somehow fitting that she should announce her return to the scene in a most unusual manner - with a low-key album of Christmas standards recorded with only the backing of her 68-year-old guitar-whiz dad, Fred Carter Jr.
The guitar-and-voice arrangements on Father Christmas offer a surprisingly personal glimpse of what the holidays might be like at the Carter house, as Deana's warm, sweet voice glides over the nimble blues- and jazz-styled guitar work of her dad, who has played for the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan.
Most of the songs on Father Christmas are well-worn classics, given fresh life by the stark musical setting, Deana's sweetly twangy voice and the obvious delight this daughter-father duo takes in their collaboration. "I'll Be Home For Christmas" opens the CD on a wistful note, but the overall mood of Father Christmas is celebratory, with the emphasis on gently glowing odes to seasonal splendor like "Let It Snow," "Winter Wonderland" and "White Christmas."
Now that Deana Carter has eased back into recording, here's hoping Father Christmas is just a warm-up to an all-out return to active duty. Now that would be a present worth waiting for.
2. Garth Brooks The Magic Of Christmas (Capitol Nashville)
Garth has re-released this 1999 holiday album, axing three of the original tracks and replacing them with the three fresh numbers he recorded for the Whoopi Goldberg TV movie Call Me Claus. For those who already own the old version of Magic, a better bet might be Garth's "Call Me Claus" single, which features all three new tracks.
3. Suzy Bogguss Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (Loyal Dutchess Records)
This swinging little album may be a little hard to find, but it's worth seeking out - a frisky, spirited collection that features guest shots from Ricky Skaggs, Delbert McClinton and the late Chet Atkins. For the time being, it's only available from www.suzybogguss.com and a few retail stores, although a wider release is planned for next year.
4. Lee Greenwood Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (FreeFalls Entertainment)
Listening to his second Christmas album, it's not hard to tell that these numbers have been tried and tested during Lee's annual Christmas shows - the songs jump with energy, and many are arranged into crowd-pleasing medleys. A few calmer interludes - moody instrumental takes on "Away In A Manger," "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This?" - showcase Lee's saxophone skills. As an added plus, Lee has included his recently revived anthem "God Bless The USA."
5. Anne Murray What A Wonderful Christmas (Straightway Music/ Sparrow Records)
This double-CD collection offers over an hour and a half of Anne delivering seasonal classics, including several newly recorded tracks with the London Symphony Orchestra.
6. Dale Watson Christmas Time In Texas (Audium Records)
With his deep baritone voice and hard-edged twang, it's no surprise that Dale brings a heavy dose of Texas charm to these seasonal songs, most newly written. Best of all may be the Elvis-y "Christmas In Vegas."
7. Various Artists No Wrapping Required: A Christmas Album (Lyric Street)
There's a distinct traditional bent to this collection, thanks to tracks from Ricky Skaggs, Porter Wagoner and three stunners from talented upstart Sonya Isaacs.
8. Various Artists Christmas Cookies (MCA Nashville)
This amiably low-key grab bag of holiday favorites dates mostly from the last several years, but reaches back as far as 1957 for chestnuts from Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee. George Strait's title cut is a sly charmer, and The Mavericks' "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" is a gleeful romp through the bluesy Elvis classic.
9. Various Artists Prancer Returns (MCA Nashville)
There isn't much country to be found among the pop standards and score music on this soundtrack to the USA Network movie, but Nickel Creek's version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is a standout.
10. Robert Earl Keen Merry Christmas From The Family (Dance Floor Books)
Robert Earl's fan-favorite tune of the same name has been expanded into this funny, easily digestible book. Pictures, jokes and a variety of mixed-drink recipes expand on the white-trash fun of the song, which is included in a rousing live rendition on a bonus CD.