Christmas Song

by: Jamey Johnson

Jamey Johnson's newfound spirit of musical independence has found a curious form of first expression with the release of The Christmas Song. The EP contains five tracks: three are genre standards, one is a Hawaiian traditional song, and one is his first new original song in four years, "South Alabam Christmas." On the surface this might not seem terribly exciting to fans of his stellar previous albums The Guitar Song and The Lonesome Song. That said, it's worth asking fans to listen a little deeper. The version of "Baby It's Cold Outside," in duet with Maui's Lily Meola, is a wonderful exercise in honky tonk swing, loaded with old-school (à la Herb Remington) pedal steel and chunky, strummed, Django Reinhardt-esque six-strings (Bob Wills, Ray Price, and the young Willie Nelson were all obsessed with him) to go with that walking bass. The arrangement on the Hawaiian-themed "Mele Kalikimaka," another duet (this time with the Secret Sisters -- Laura and Lydia Rogers), was written in 1949 by Robert Alexander Anderson. Johnson's version, delivered in his signature clean, baritone drawl shines through the classic countrypolitan era while borrowing directly from the Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby, yet references Dick Powell's version as well. "South Alabam Christmas" is trademark Johnson seeing the light from the bottom of a country waltz. The tenderness in his delivery, when backed by an excellent band and paired with excellent vintage production (which includes him delivering a flügelhorn solo!) is almost iconic. Nelson's "Pretty Paper" has become part of the great holiday canon. Johnson's version is faithful -- down to the bluesy harmonica solo and his vocal being recorded in Garland, Texas where the author cut this. It's well-done. The closer, Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song," draws from Nat King Cole's (whose doesn't?) but it's so saturated in Johnson's vocal phrasing, and so deeply rooted in classic country, it becomes a version that other artists from his genre should take note of. Johnson is such a strong persona, we forget that as a singer he is capable of tremendous vulnerability and empathy. The Christmas Song, with its gentleness, levity, sincerity, and love of tradition, is a welcome addition to his catalog and to any holiday collection. ~ Thom Jurek

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