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The Isaacs (from left, Sonya, Ben, Lily, Rebecca): exceeding their own high standards with a seasonal classic

Down Home And Downright Dazzling
By David McGee

isaacs christmasCHRISTMAS
The Isaacs
Gaither Music Group

It’s closing in on a decade since we’ve heard from The Issacs at Christmastime (via 2002’s Christmas Spirit, which was preceded by 1995’s I Feel The Christmas Spirit), and the family band of Becky, Sonya, Lily and Ben make the most of this outing. So did their fans by voting at the Isaacs and Gaither websites for their favorite Yuletide songs, with the top five vote-getters making this collection’s final tunestack. It’s not indicated which five those are, but the selections are about evenly divided between seasonal standards, spiritual and secular alike.

The Isaacs, The Making of Christmas

On the fun side, Sonya’s child chorus-enhanced swinger, “Santa Claus Is Real,” benefits from its playful attitude, the kids’ bright, exuberant voices (and gee-whiz spoken dialogue) and an old-timey arrangement featuring banjo and honky tonk piano. The most engaging of the spirited moments comes on the bluegrass barnburner, “It’s Christmastime Again,” a celebration of family togetherness at the holidays, with its ingratiating shuffle, instrumental flurries by Bryan Sutton on banjo, Aubrey Haynie on fiddle, Sonya on mandolin, and Gordon Mote on piano, and Sonya’s gleeful vocal, on which she sounds like a dead ringer for Rhonda Vincent. Among the contemporary tunes, the soft ballad “Grown-Up Christmas List,” by David Foster and Linda T. Jenner, is a thoughtful prayer advocating global peace and love, featuring Mote’s churchy piano, Haynie’s weeping fiddle lines and a beautiful, introspective reading by the Isaacs women in perfect harmony. Enhance these selections with some beloved standards, and Christmas rises above the commonplace: “The Christmas Song” done to a turn as a country-inflected ballad with a memorable lead vocal by Sonya and heart tugging harmonies to boot; a gentle, western swing treatment of “Winter Wonderland” to open the album, with Buddy Greene supplying some warm, atmospheric harmonica to the proceedings and Ben pitching in with a hearty male vocal to add some rustic texture to the womens’ pop-styled harmonizing; a spare, quiet, guitar-and-vocal treatment of “Silver Bells” with delicate mandolin filigrees courtesy Sonya and lovely, layered female harmonies (as well as a soft “bum-bum-bum” chant emulating the bells) caressing the Evans-Livingston lyrics and adding a fresh flavor to this now-half-century-old chestnut first recorded by Bing Crosby; and someone came up with the inspired idea to take “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” at a toe-tapping, syncopated pace in a delightful, bluesy arrangement in which wood blocks, harmonica and guitar set the instrumental pace as the Isaacs’ voices cascade down the melody line.

The Isaacs, the Rhonda Vincent-like bluegrass barnburner ‘It’s Christmas Time Again,’ from Christmas

Not least of all, the meaning of the season is explored in reverential treatments given “What Child Is This?” and “Away In a Manger,” which underscore the mystery and beauty of the Christ child’s birth, and sidling up to these beloved standards is a moving new tune by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, the haunting “Mary, Did You Know?,” a powerful, surging ballad telling the Virgin of the miracles her baby will work in his lifetime. In its diverse themes, in its execution, and especially in the voices’ conviction and beauty, The Isaacs’ Christmas has the feel of a seasonal classic by a group whose every new album exceeds its own high standards.

The Isaacs’ Christmas is available at the band’s website

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, 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