Album Review: The Oak Ridge Boys’ ‘Down Home Christmas’

The Oak Ridge Boys have a new Christmas album for your holiday traditions.

Written by Kelly Dearmore
Album Review: The Oak Ridge Boys’ ‘Down Home Christmas’
The Oak Ridge Boys; Photo courtesy of 2911 Media

When it comes to Christmas records, no other genre does it quite like country music does. And since man can not celebrate by Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper alone, it’s always nice to have some new holiday offerings to add to the yuletide playlist. As dependably excellent as country music has been with producing fine Christmas records year after year, legendary quartet the Oak Ridge Boys have been just as reliable in this regard.

The Dave Cobb-produced Down Home Christmas is the eighth holiday-specific album from the Oak Ridge. With the exception of a few years in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s the classic lineup of the iconic vocal quartet has remained intact and immediately identifiable since the early 1970s. Over that time the group has released eight Christmas records, including this new one. That’s a lot of traditional holiday cheer already released, which makes the inclusion of primarily new tunes on this record certainly welcome.

To be clear, the group’s traditional, rich takes on beloved tunes “Silent Night” and seminal gospel hymn “Amazing Grace” are more than welcome here. But with so many well-known Christmas carols already handled by them before, hearing the Oak Ridge Boys harmonize over some new tunes is a great thing, regardless of song subject. Songwriter Aaron Raitiere, one of Cobb’s go-to writers, is behind six of the record’s 10 tracks, with outlaw giant Jamey Johnson lending his pen to the remarkable, slow jazz ballad “South Alabama Christmas.”

For the most part, the album can be divided into two types of tunes with songs focusing on family and fun in one group and the other group featuring a prominent focus on faith. Added to the aforementioned classic covers, “Hallelujah Emmanuel” offers a foot-stomping, hand-clapping and arm-waving take on the Bethlehem birth of Jesus. An original song dealing in spirituality, “Angels” is a jaunty acoustic number dealing lyrically more with the type of Christian faith families share during the holidays, versus the actual holiday itself.

It’s not all preaching to the Christmas choir, however. Ol’ Saint Nick gets more than coal in his Oak Ridge Boys song stocking, courtesy of a couple of doo-wop flavored tunes in the boogie-woogie inflected “Reindeer on the Roof,” and the bouncing soul style of “Don’t Go Pullin’ on Santa Claus’ Beard.” On both tunes, the group’s unmistakable bass singer, Richard Sterben takes lead and reminds any who might’ve forgotten just how unique his band is. The frolicking, up-tempo title track even takes note of “cussin’ grannies” and “every kind of pie you’d ever want to eat.”

And because for most of us, the holidays really aren’t the same without our loved ones nearby, the jubilantly cheerful “Family Piano,” paints a warm, gospel-tinged picture. For those who have an empty seat at the Christmas dinner table, the Oak Ridge Boys offer “Bring Daddy Home For Christmas.” A spoken word story song, with only the choruses sung, the all-too common wish of a child asking “Santa, or Jesus, or whoever it may concern,” for Dad to return is a heart-tugging number delivered with sensitivity.

If the holiday season is all about long-held traditions, then pushing play on an Oak Ridge Boys Christmas album should absolutely be up there with spiking the egg nogg, arguing with your crazy uncle and watching “A Christmas Story” for 24 hours straight.