Album Review: “Down Home Christmas” – The Oak Ridge Boys

Album Review: “Down Home Christmas” – The Oak Ridge Boys

Down Home Christmas
Produced by Dave Cobb
Lightning Rod Records

http://www.oakridgeboys.com
Format: CD & Digital
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Format Reviewed: Streaming (Spotify)

Tune-O-Meter: Non-Existent

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Song Titles: The Family Piano (Aaron Raitiere) / Angels (Aaron Raitiere) / Bring Daddy Home For Christmas (Channing Wilson, Aaron Raitiere) / Reindeer on the Roof (Jake Mitchell, Aaron Raitiere) / Silent Night (Franz Gruber, Joseph Mohr) / Hallelujah Emmanuel (Robert Jason, Paul Bradley Sr.) / Down Home Christmas (Mando Saenz, Aaron Raitiere) / South Alabama Christmas (Jamey Johnson, Bill Anderson, Buddy Cannon) / Don’t Go Pullin’ On Santa Claus’ Beard (Anderson East, Aaron Raitiere) / Amazing Grace (John Newton)

Many artists have released Christmas music at some point in their careers. Some release multiple albums. Very few make it their eighth such album. With Down Home Christmas, The Oak Ridge Boys have hit such a milestone.

One would think after so many albums of Christmas music, artists would struggle to find worthy material that hasn’t already been done to death (either by other artists or themselves on previous albums). To combat this, producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings) brought in a group of songwriters to help craft original material specifically for this project. The result is a 10-song project that includes 8 original compositions – an impressive feat in itself, but especially so when limited to strictly Christmas-related material.

The songs run the gamut here, from nostalgic to novelty and sentimental to spiritual. “The Family Piano” and “Down Home Christmas” are mid-tempo family-centered songs, the latter of which seems to call-back to their 2005 recoding, “Uncle Luther Made The Stuffing.” “Reindeer On The Roof” and “Don’t Go Pullin’ On Santa Claus’ Beard” are fun, bouncy numbers that cover the Santa aspects of the holiday.

“Bring Daddy Home For Christmas” runs the risk of going too far into sappy territory, especially with the extended recitations, but the chorus makes up for it and is quite creative, where a child can’t decide if his request should go to Santa or Jesus (“whoever it may concern”). While the reason for Daddy’s absence is left SOMEWHAT ambiguous, the song does at least explain that such a request isn’t impossible.

Of the two spiritual-focused songs, “Hallelujah Emmanuel” is straight-up hand-clapping gospel. I could easily see this song being covered by gospel artists in the coming years. “Angels” feels a bit like an odd-man out, in that its content is not necessarily Christmas-focused; still the Oaks make it work within the context of the album.

The two “classics” here are “Silent Night” and “Amazing Grace.” Both songs have been recorded by the group previously. With “Silent Night,” the elaborate orchestration of their 1982 edition is replaced with stripped down instrumentation. I do miss Richard Sterban’s recitation of Luke 2 in this version, but given that there are two other spoken tracks, I can see why it was omitted. “Amazing Grace” is given a full spoken intro by Joe Bonsall before we are treated to a (mostly) a cappella rendition similar to how they perform it live. Fans have long requested such a version, and although it’s a Christmas album, it still feels like it fits.

“South Alabama Christmas,” a slow jazzy sound with sparse instrumentation, sounds like it was written specifically for William Lee Golden, whose hometown is on the Florida/Alabama state line. The song tells of having no snow and no chimney for Santa, but still celebrating the season with a clever hook. Golden has related in the past the story of not witnessing his first snowfall until he made the trip from Brewton, AL, to Nashville to join the Oaks in 1965.

As DBM noted in his review, Dave Cobb’s production style is that of a more raw approach, with perfection taking a back seat to authentic performances and smaller production. Most songs never exceed four or five instruments, and the voices utilize old-school stacking instead of digital fine-tuning. There were times when listening to this album that it sounded like it was recorded in the late 70’s as opposed to 2019, creating a very cool retro sound.

Seeing as this is the third Oaks album produced by Dave Cobb (and the second in a row), you can definitely tell that they are starting to gel as a collaborative team. It appears as though, instead of trying to modernize the Oaks with slick, shiny production (and hide their age behind digital editing and artificial perfection), Cobb is allowing the group to shine as they are, flaws and all. Is every note 100% on pitch? No, but that can be forgiven when you take into account that these guys can still bring it at this point in their career.

I really hope that this album’s sound is an indication of things to come from The Oak Ridge Boys. Cobb is slated to produce their next album, so I’m excited to hear what they put together.

Overall
4 out of 5

4

Good
4 out of 5
Tags Christmas
Category CD Reviews, Reviews

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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