There are, of course, no bad Christmas records, just varying degrees of quality between those that are all-time classics and those that are enjoyable. The sense of the season and the associations and themes the songs recall dictate such. A classic Christmas recording would be Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” An enjoyable recording would be any that are not classics. Christmas Along The Crooked Road falls somewhere in the middle—not of classic status but more than just enjoyable.
The album’s title comes from the inclusion of musicians who all live in Southwest Virginia or Northwest North Carolina. Guitarist Gerald Anderson, singer Helen White, fiddler Jimmy Edmonds, guitarist Wayne Henderson, banjoist Steve Lewis, pianist Jeff Little, bassist Josh Scott, mandolinist Spencer Strickland, and the Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc., are featured and each get at least one track as a leader. Anderson gets three and White contributes two. All but White’s two tracks (one a gentle, folk-tinged original, “Christmas Promise,” the other an eighteenth century tune, “Christmas Lullaby”) are Christmas standards of the “Deck The Halls”/“Silent Night”/“Blue Christmas”/“Away In The Manger” variety.
What gives the collection a lift beyond just enjoyable are Wesley Easter’s warm and clear production and the nice variety of vocal and instrumental settings, settings that run from the full traditional bluegrass of “Deck The Halls” and “Joy To The World,” to Strickland’s swing mandolin on “Winter Wonderland” and from the fingerpicked guitar and vocal cover of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” to Little’s “Take Five”-like piano version of “What Child Is This.” Ending with Edmonds’ lyrical fiddle on “Away In The Manger” brings it all back to the true spirit of the season. (Crooked Road, 605 McArthur St., Galax, VA 24333, www.christmasalongthecrookedroad.com.) BW