A True Tennessee Christmas; by Philip Mayabb
Amy Grant is, and will forevermore be, Christian music royalty. I know some of you are shaking your heads at me right now, and that's fine, not everybody likes Amy for many different reasons, some musical, some personal, and that is your prerogative, but like it or not, she IS at the top of the totem pole when contemporary Christian music is the topic. The numbers do not lie...she has more gold and platinum albums than any other Christian artist (yes, some of those are for her pop albums in the 90s), and she is easily the most recognizable name in the CCM industry. I could spend the rest of this blog making an argument for why Amy is one of the biggest artists in Christian music history.
This point is no more true than when you are discussing Christmas music...she has released four of the all-time best selling Christmas albums by a Christian artist, and songs such as Emmanuel, Tennessee Christmas, Grown Up Christmas List, and others are played in heavy rotation on the radio every year during the Christmas season. In addition to her four main Christmas albums, there are several compilation albums of her music as well, adding to her position as one of the big wheels of Christmas. So it is with great pleasure that we at CCM Classic present her latest holiday classic, 2016's Tennessee Christmas as our Vinyl Revival album of the week, and first Christmas album this year.
Okay, so I will admit, this isn't an old Christmas album, it came out just two years ago. Some folks may be surprised to learn that it actually is available on vinyl, but it is. The only other AG Christmas album that is available on vinyl is 1983's A Christmas Album, so we will start with the newer of the two. It is my sincere hope that someday, her other two Christmas albums will be released on vinyl, but the good news is that our listeners will get to hear plenty of Amy's Christmas music this holiday season, along with all the other fantastic artists and albums we have ready to go. Here's a personal observation...I tend to enjoy Christmas albums that are mixed with a little studio reverb on them, this album has none. I will however say this, Tennessee Christmas is every bit enjoyable as Amy's other Christmas classics, it has all the necessary traits of a great album. Great songs, great performances by the studio musicians on the record, great production, and most importantly, great vocals by Amy herself.
This album was actually recorded at the home Amy shares with husband Vince Gill (which might explain the lack of studio ambience), but again, it does not take away from the appeal of the recording. The album has all 13 songs that are on the CD version (if you have the Target exclusive edition of the CD, there are 15 tracks), and they sound so good coming from the turntable. Long time fans will have a different opinion on the title track itself...it's still a classic even 30 plus years after it was released on Amy's first Christmas album, but it does not sound quite like the original. The remake on this album is more earthy and organic sonically, and might even be played a little faster than the original, but as we all know, a truly great song will always be great, and to listen to the new version should bring back warm feelings and memories of the first time you heard the song back in the eighties. The earthy organic mix on the track is in fact, the normal for the entire album (as I said earlier, this album was mixed quite differently than her first three holiday albums), but for the song selection and arrangements, the mix works perfectly.
There are some downright fantastic tracks on this LP, and one of my favorites is the album's second song To Be Together. The very first time I heard it, it felt like Christmas, from the lyrics to the music, the song is just dripping with Christmas spirit. Christmas For You And Me is a playful, bouncy, lighthearted take on the holiday, but with one note of warning for some. The lyric contains a line that says Santa brought me a bottle of wine, soon we'll be feeling fine. Some Christians who do not drink wine or any other type of spirited beverage may find that line objectionable, if not offensive...we are not in the business of passing judgment on anybody when it comes to subjects like this one, so we will give no commentary on whether those lyrics and ideology is right or wrong, that is for you, the listener, to decide. I will say that I have often wondered if those lyrics were one of the reasons why Lifeway bookstores decided not to sell the album when it hit the stores in 2016. I don't remember the reason the bookstore chain gave the public (or if it gave one at all), but I do remember Amy's manager Jennifer Cooke writing an op-ed in the Washington Post about the whole situation. You can Google the incident if you wish, and learn more about it.
Getting back to the album, there are traditional Christmas carols on there (O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joy To The World), Christmas standards (White Christmas, Christmas Don't Be Late), and originals (To Be Together, Another Merry Christmas, Still Can't Sleep), so the song selection is pretty evenly balanced, however there are three different songs on this album (Melancholy Christmas, December, and Another Merry Christmas) that breach the subject of those folks who are alone at Christmastime, and they will make you stop and think, and then be thankful to God if you are not in that position. Now most people like a Christmas album to have upbeat, happier lyrics, but that is one area in which Tennessee Christmas stands out from most other holiday albums, including Amy's others...it can present a real view of Christmas, and how difficult the holiday can actually be for some. The fact that the first two of them appear back to back on the album can be kind of a downer, if you're not careful, but these three tracks do deserve a listen - not just with your ear, but your heart as well.
Two more quick mentions: I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm - I honestly don't know who was the first to record this old song (I do know it can be found on Frank Sinatra's album Ring-A-Ding-Ding), but it really wasn't written as a Christmas song. I have always been used to Frank's big band swing arrangement, but I will say that the arrangement on this album, which is almost a shuffle type groove, works really, really well, and Amy delivers the vocal to perfection, making her minimalistic approach to the song fit like a glove on the album. Second, Baby It's Cold Outside - this is probably the only track of the 13 on this album that I could have done without. Again, everyone is entitled to their own opinion (my daughter actually loves the song), but as for me, I just don't care for this song, and it doesn't matter who is singing it. Obviously, Amy chose her husband, Vince Gill as her duet partner, which is fine by me, but there is just something about the song that just shuts my brain down whenever I hear it. If you like the song, God Bless you, I have no problem with that, you will probably enjoy Amy and Vince's rendition of it, as for me, no thanks I'll pass.
I'll close by stating the obvious...you can't go wrong with a Christmas album by Amy Grant, pure and simple. She has a knack for creating musical works of art for Christmas, and Tennessee Christmas is no exception. It is another example of how she has a special talent for holiday music, and I believe when you listen, you will see and hear why Amy is CCM royalty, she's earned it. One final note - for anyone close to the Nashville area, if you get a chance, try to get to the Ryman Auditorium during the holiday season, and catch one of Amy and Vince's Christmas shows. They do a extensive schedule of shows up till just before Christmas day, and you will enjoy every minute of their show.
Side 1 -
1. Tennessee Christmas (Amy Grant & Gary Chapman)
2. To Be Together (Amy Grant & Chris Eaton)
3. Christmas For You And Me (Ellie Holcomb & Nathan Dugger)
4. Melancholy Christmas (Amy Grant & Marshall Altman)
5. December (Isaac Darnall)
6. White Christmas (Irving Berlin)
Side 2 -
1. Joy To The World (Isaac Watts)
2. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (Irving Berlin)
3. Baby, It's Cold Outside (featuring Vince Gill) (Frank Loesser)
4. Christmas Don't Be Late (The Chipmunk Song) (Ross Bagdasarian)
5. Still Can't Sleep (Ed & Franni Cash)
6. Another Merry Christmas (Amy Grant & Ed Cash)
7. O Come, All Ye Faithful (John Francis Wade)
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