Album Review: Alabama’s ‘American Christmas’
If you are fortunate enough to have longevity on your side as a recording artist, the odds of having at least one Christmas collection in your catalog are pretty strong. If you have been active for several decades, chances are equally good that you have more than one. Artists such as Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and Alan Jackson each have a pair of Yuletide collections to their credit – Kenny Rogers has six – and the Oak Ridge Boys (which includes William Lee Golden, who could very well be a modern-day Santa Claus) lead all country acts with seven offerings of the holiday season. It’s safe to say there’s definitely a market for the sounds of the season.
Alabama knows this fact better than anyone. In 1982 – at the height of their success – the group released “Christmas In Dixie,” which has been part of the country Christmas culture now for an amazing thirty-five years. Simply put, it wouldn’t be the season without it. The success of that song led to their first Christmas album in 1985, and eleven years later, the group released another set of music for the months of November and December. And, now twenty-one years later, the band is at it again.
What makes American Christmas different from the other two releases? To be honest, not really anything – and I say that totally with the utmost respect for the team of Owen, Cook, and Gentry. Wisely, the Country Music Hall of Famers didn’t try to re-invent the wheel with this disc. They simply held true to the formula of offering some time-honored standards, mixing it with some well-written new material, and coming up with a disc that should serve as the perfect soundtrack for shopping trips or family gatherings.
Of the standards, the band fares best on “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” where that trademark family harmony is as tight and as pristine as ever. There’s also a festive feel to such uptempo favorites as “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells,” and when Randy takes the solo spotlight on a stirring version of “Silent Night,” you can’t really tell if it’s 1987, 1997, or 2017!
What really makes this album stand out, though, is the newer material. Owen turns in a powerful performance on the heart-tugging “’First Christmas Without Daddy,” a song he wrote about the holiday season of 1980, which was the first without his father. Jeff Cook adds a lively touch to “Christmas Joy,” and the band sounds like they might have during a holiday season at The Bowery – their old stomping grounds in Myrtle Beach – on the nostalgic sounding “Ain’t Santa Cool?” But, perhaps the top moment on the album comes from Teddy Gentry. With everything going on in the world today – Charlottesville, Hurricanes, and most recently, the tragedy in Las Vegas – “Sure Could Use Some Christmas Around Here” is not only timely, but one hundred percent on point. The song evokes a spirit and a message that everyone could do well to take a page from, a true reminder of the love and peace this time of year is about. It’s a sentiment we all need to hear, but also as heavy as this album gets.
American Christmas will remind you of old times, Christmas shopping trips with the family, and celebrations with friends you have known for years. After all, it’s Alabama, and who better to fill that role than one of the format’s all-time greatest groups!