"Snow flake's a fallin', my old home's a callin'"
With autumn closing in or closing out in some areas, what better time to start building that Christmas music collection?
The Hartbeat staff is always on top of a pine tree scanning the musical horizon for a new collection of Christmas music. This year a sharp lookout heard some sweet sounds emanating from 200 Louise Ave. in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Further research determined that is address was the home of Skaggs Family Records.
Hartbeat was able to obtain a copy of "A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume Two." This cd and DVD set features 14-time Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs, his wife Sharon, children Molly and Luke, Buck and Cheryl White and Cheryl's daughter Rachel Leftwich. Joining this musical extended family is Ricky's band, Kentucky Thunder and the Nashville Strings.
Family harmonies have provided some memorable moments in the history of music. The Everly Brothers, The Judds, Angus and Malcolm Young come to mind. Well, maybe the Young brothers don't provide classic harmonies in AC/DC, but they do produce great riffs.
Fans of Ricky Skaggs and family will remember the 2005 album, "Skaggs Family Christmas" that featured many of the same performers and a mixture of traditional and new music.
Just in case you are put off by the idea of bluegrass holiday music or bluegrass in general, remember that bluegrass is American Roots music, a mixture of English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and African American influences and features diverse instruments playing accompaniment and improvising on the melody as well as excellent vocal harmonies. Take a risk and listen.
When people aren't sure if they will like a certain style of music, I always like to quote what blues/roots musician Taj Mahal said when I was videotaping his performance at the 1983 Winnipeg Folk Festival; "Folk music is music that the folks like." I think you will like "A Skaggs Family Christmas." It's truly "folk" music.
Now let's get to the music!
Christmas Time's a Coming
In a holiday album, I lean towards new material. I realize the standards evoke a sleigh full of memories and there usually are a few on every Christmas album. I like the Skaggs album because there is original material along with some standards done in unique ways.
Cut one of the album kicks off with a spirited bluegrass arrangement of "Christmas Time's a Coming." Written by influential fiddle player, Tex Logan, the song gives us images of going home for Christmas and features outstanding instrumental breaks by the band.
"A Light of the Stable" is the second track and features the vocals of the White Family. The harmonies are excellent on this song which some may remember from the 1979 Emmylou Harris Christmas album of the same name.
Molly Skaggs performs the vocals on the John Jacob Niles composition "What Songs Were Sung" with only a piano and percussion accompaniment. The lyrics of this song tell the age-old story of Christmas in an original way and Molly Skaggs does a fine version of singing it.
Niles was an American composer and singer of ballads who made his own dulcimers and was a big influence on the folk revival of the 1950's and 60's. His songs were recorded by a wide variety of artists including Joan Baez, Burl Ives and Peter Paul and Mary. Duluth native, Bob Dylan, quoted the first line of Nile's "Go Away from My Window" in "It Ain't Me Babe."
A live version of "Flight to Egypt" features Luke Skaggs on lead guitar. This is Luke's own composition and his guitar work is inspiring. Take the time to watch the live version on the DVD as well.
Every Christmas album I really enjoy has an original song that should become a classic. Clint Black has "Milk and Cookies" on "Looking For Christmas," "There's a New Kid in Town" is on George Strait's "Merry Christmas Strait to You" and "Please Come Home for Christmas" by Charles Brown are among my favorites. After repeated listening to "Reunion Song" on this album, I will be adding it to my list of personal holiday classics.
Written by Gene MacLellan (who also wrote "Snowbird" and "Put Your Hand in the Hand"), "Reunion Song" features Ricky Skaggs on lead vocal, guitars and mandolin. Great pedal steel guitar is one of the elements that gives this song my vote as the next Christmas standard.
"Children Go" is a traditional tune arranged on this album by Ricky Skaggs. The vocal interplay between the family members rivals my favorite version of the song by the Blind Boys of Alabama. This is an excellent choice of a traditional Christmas tune that really showcases the harmonies of these musicians. It also works well as a way to teach children how to count.
The standards on this album have some different treatments which make them of interest to those of us who are interested in holiday music as a unique genre. We listen to it all!
Luke, Molly and Rachel sing the traditional "Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel" with only guitar by Luke as accompaniment. Again, there are first-rate three part harmonies on this song.
"Silent Night" is covered on many Christmas albums but the arrangement here is a little different. Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White and Cheryl White provide flowing three part harmony. This offering has something you don't hear on all of those other versions--a mandolin played by Ricky. When I first listened to the album, I thought that another performance of the 1800's classic was not needed, but this version did start to grow on me.
The "First Noel" is a traditional standard performed live on this album with three part harmony by Ricky Skaggs, Sharon White and Cheryl White. It takes musical courage to perform an acapella version of a song before a live audience. This track may become your favorite version of this song.
The album ends with an instrumental version of "Joy to the World."
There are enough unique tunes on "A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume Two" to include it in your holiday music library. The Hartbeat staff will be loading this CD into the multi-CD changer at Hartbeat World Headquarters for some new inspirational as well as classic Christmas music.
The DVD included in the package has some original tunes and standards not found on the cd. The video quality is exceptional and it is very interesting to see and hear live versions of the album cuts. Being able to watch the family members expertly play a variety of instruments is a bonus.
To learn more about the Skaggs recordings and other artists you may find of interest, please click here.
The Hartbeat goes on...
What's Cooking on the Hartbeat Grill?
Recently I discovered an interesting music site, SoundCloud. While exploring the site, I listened to Merle Haggard's new album, "Working in Tennessee", which was streamed in its entirety on SoundCloud for one day.
Haggard is recording on the Vanguard label (best known for folk music of the 60's, confirming Taj Mahal's quote about folk music again) and this album delivers classic Haggard writing about politicians, truck driving, the current state of country music, relationships and economics. His son Ben joins him for an update of "Working Man Blues" and his wife for a version of "Jackson". At the age of 74, having survived cancer, Haggard still has it as a writer and musician--but then he never lost it.
SoundCloud is an online audio distribution platform started in Sweden and now located in Berlin, Germany. It offers the opportunity for artists to upload their music to a site similar to MySpace but allowing easier sharing worldwide. It's a good place to hear new and established artists. Click here for a link to SoundCloud.
If you found bluegrass music of interest you may want to check out another Ricky Skaggs album, "Ricky Skaggs Country Hits Blue Grass Style". Play this cd during a road trip and the miles will fly by; you will hear some fine singing and playing. Be careful tapping your toes on that gas pedal.
The Musical Notes
The title of this Hartbeat is a line from "Christmas Time's A Coming". Its composer, Tex Logan, is a premier bluegrass fiddle player who is also an electrical engineer. Some call him a rocket scientist fiddle player. His songs have been recorded by Bill Monroe, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan.
The Photo Notes and Some Links
The cover of "A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume Two" comes to us from Skaggs Family Records with photography and design by Erick Anderson.
If you want more information about unique holiday music, check out last year's Hartbeat on the topic by clicking here.
It's located deep in the Hartbeat vault.
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)