CD Review: Amy Grant – Tennessee Christmas

CD Review: Amy Grant – Tennessee Christmas

amy-grantProducers: Mac McAnally, Marshall Altman, Ed Cash
Label: Amy Grant Productions, under exclusive license to Sparrow Records
Song Titles: Tennessee Christmas; To Be Together; Christmas For You And Me; Melancholy Christmas; December; White Christmas; Joy To The World; I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; Baby, It’s Cold Outside (with Vince Gill); Christmas Don’t Be Late; Still Can’t Sleep; Another Merry Christmas; O Come, All Ye Faithful
Rating: 4 Stars

Amy Grant’s first collection of Christmas songs was released in 1983 (A Christmas Album). Memorable cuts from that project included fresh tracks like “Tennessee Christmas,” “Emmanuel,” and “Heirlooms” as well as several holiday carols and classic Christmas songs. Grant’s second Christmas recording came nine years later in 1992 (Home For Christmas). From it we gained new songs like “Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song),” “Grown-Up Christmas List,” and “Emmanuel, God With Us.” Again, Grant included several familiar carols and classics. 1999’s A Christmas To Remember followed the same pattern, bringing us to 2016 and Grant’s fourth Christmas album. You know the formula by now. There are thirteen tracks on Tennessee Christmas including six new (or relatively new) songs combined with seven carols and classics.

As the CD title implies, Grant revisits her own song “Tennessee Christmas,” this time picking up the tempo ever so slightly and adding a new bridge. Other well-known songs include the carols “Joy To The World,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Ross Bagdasarian’s “Christmas Don’t Be Late” and Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.”

The first new track, “To Be Together,” has that timeless Amy Grant quality. There’s a playful rhythm that seems faster than it actually is, a never old lyrical theme of trying to get home to be with family at Christmas, and Grant’s rich alto tones that sound as good as ever. This is my favorite of all the new songs.

“Christmas For You And Me” is the relatively new song I alluded to earlier. It’s actually nine years old, previously recorded by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. The lyric “Santa brought me a bottle of wine…soon we’ll be feeling fine” may raise some eyebrows. This could be one reason LifeWay Christian Stores refused to stock Tennessee Christmas in their stores, though they have declined to state specifically what led to their decision. A reference to a possibly spiked drink appears later on the CD in the classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” To be clear, both instances are humorous references. Is it right for LifeWay Christian Stores to refuse to stock this CD? No. In fact, it is rather hypocritical to ban Tennessee Christmas while selling Christmas CDs by other artists that similarly feature a mix of secular and sacred Christmas songs (including two of Grant’s three previous holiday albums).

Remember 1991’s Heart In Motion? Of course you do. It was banned by a number of Christian retail stores, but despite that handicap, it became Grant’s best-selling album ever with more than five million copies sold. On that collection among all the light-hearted pop songs that ultimately catapulted Grant to super-stardom in the pop market was “Ask Me,” a song tackling the dark subject of child abuse. On Tennessee Christmas among all the songs about family and fun Christmas traditions is “Melancholy Christmas,” a song that similarly addresses the dark issue of depression. For many people, the Christmas season isn’t so merry. As the world around them appears to be filled with people having a wonderful time, Grant reminds those who are lonely that they are not alone.

“Melancholy Christmas,” while far from joyous, has a worthwhile and reassuring conclusion. If we could hear it and move on, it would be OK, but instead we have “December” piling on with another depressing lyric. It’s not as well-crafted and there’s no hope offered at the end. There’s just a generic remembrance of a lost love. The failed relationship is compared to the winter season. In fact, if it wasn’t set on Christmas Day, there would be no specific connection to the holiday. “December” is my least favorite song on Tennessee Christmas.

“White Christmas” appears next, drastically shifting the mood set by the two preceding songs. You’d think “Joy To The World” would carry the upbeat motion forward, but it has instead been slowed to a dirge. The liner notes indicate this was done at the suggestion of Grant’s producer to help her “hear these words in a new way.” Thankfully, the mood shifts up again for the fun “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “Christmas Don’t Be Late” features some personal insight into Grant’s family life at Christmas time with narration between the familiar verses. No, her voice is not pitched up an octave to make her sound like Alvin & The Chipmunks.

“Still Can’t Sleep” offers a fresh take on a familiar theme. “Another Merry Christmas” is similar to “Melancholy Christmas” in some respects, but the conclusion is more hopeful. The bow on this package of diverse content is “O Come, All Ye Faithful” with Grant returning to narrate again in addition to singing. The final verse is a choir made up of her family members.

I don’t know the thought process that brought this particular collection of songs together. I can only report what it’s like from a fan and listener perspective. Tennessee Christmas is best described as “scattered.” If the point is to touch every emotion people feel during the Christmas season…”happy and sad,” “good and bad,” as the lyrics to “Another Merry Christmas” point out…then I suppose it is a valiant effort. This is a mess of a collection, but there are strokes of brilliance as well. If I never hear a couple of these songs again, I won’t miss them, but there are others I wouldn’t mind hearing over and over. For what it’s worth, the production quality is impeccable, and after all these years, Grant’s unique vocals still demand attention.

Overall Rating
4 out of 5

4

Good
4 out of 5
Category CD Reviews, Reviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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2 Comments

  1. Chris Unthank
    Reply November 15, 10:00 #1 Chris Unthank

    I’m actually listening to this as I type this out. I agree that it can be a bit slow, but I really really liked her slowed-down version of “Joy to the World.” I thought it was fantastic, but I agree it’s placement on the recording wasn’t well thought out.

    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply November 15, 12:17 David Bruce Murray Author

      It works great through the first verse when there’s only a piano accompaniment. I only noticed just how ponderously it was plodding along when the other instruments kicked in. If they had kept it with just piano…maybe working in another key change, I’d like it a lot more.

      I actually wouldn’t mind the placement if “December” had been eliminated from the CD. The one faster song between “December” and “Joy To The World” just isn’t enough of a lift before going back to the same mood, albeit with more uplifting lyrics.

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