december 2009

Joe Nichols
Universal South
Released: 2004

2004, a good year for Joe Nichols, got even better upon the release of his first Yuletide offering, A Traditional Christmas, a genial, heartfelt winner in a mellow mood. As the title suggests, the fare is in-the-pocket seasonal offerings; however well worn this material, Nichols and producer Brent Rowan revitalize it with tasty arrangements heavy on acoustical instruments (an electric guitar is heard on occasion, but only briefly), with tin whistle, autoharp and recorder showing up on a couple of tracks to add rustic touches, plus a clarinet lending a Dixieland flavor to the bouncy celebration on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is irresistible as a pop-styled shuffle energized by a crooning chorus, a speed-picked gut-string guitar solo courtesy the estimable Bryan Sutton, humming organ and dancing piano runs throughout. Jim Hoke's keening tin whistle cries lend a poignant air to a reverential treatment of "Silent Night." Taken at a casual lope, "Winter Wonderland" is doubly engaging for the warm, shimmering harmonica fills from Jim Hoke and a western swing feel Bob Wills would endorse. The ingredient that brings it all home is, of course, Nichols' vocalizing. Echoes of young Merle Haggard all over his style, Nichols lays down one affecting performance after another—engagingly playful on "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," somber and reflective on "O Holy Night," welcoming and avuncular on a lilting, pop-styled treatment of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," soothing on a dreamy, romantic take of "The Christmas Song." Minus even a trace of bombast, outsized emotions or sugar-sweet sentimentality, A Traditional Christmas seeks to evoke the feelings and values that should bind folks together throughout the year, not only during the holidays. So it does, and thanks for the reminder. It's always timely. — David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024