november 2010 header
border crossings

guitar christmasGUITAR CHRISTMAS
Steve Wariner
SelecTone Records

If you only followed Steve Wariner’s liner notes for his instrumental Christmas album, you might think Guitar Christmas nothing more than a guitar nerd’s holiday exercise. He lists no less than nine different axes he employs on the dozen tunes, and song by song his comments run along the lines of “This is my model Takamine (SW341 sc). It was recorded with one side being direct (with slight chorus) and the left side mic’d non-affected.” Truly guitar nerd stuff, right?

Steve Warner and Chet Atkins

Let nothing you dismay. One of the most nuanced and expressive of Nashville’s guitar titans, Wariner is fully invested in the human experience once the music starts. Guitar Christmas has a quiet, dignified majesty in its meditative explorations of melody and harmony, and a warm, engaging vibe that betrays Wariner’s love for these familiar holiday favorites. As for those guitars he plays, each one turns out to add something special to the mood: the full-bodied, resonant sound of the Joe Glaser Telecaster B-Bender enhances the quiet wonder of “Silent Night”; the lively twang of the Jerry Jones Baritone Guitar brings a little extra bounce to the frolic of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” and Wariner’s adept mix of single string runs at both ends of the neck and tasty chording further heightens the tune’s inherent joy; The Gibson guitar honoring Wariner’s mentor, Chet Atkins (the Country Gentleman model, appropriately named), with its clean, full tone, provides a soothing, romantic ambience for “White Christmas” and a sublime warmth for Warner’s graceful take on “Winter Wonderland,” during which he engages in a bit of jazzy improvisation on the melody line while never losing the fireside feel; and the Olympia Dulcimer, needless to say, injects old world sound and atmospherics into one of the truly ancient carols on record, “I Saw Three Ships,” in a bright, dancing arrangement with a celebratory feel, apropos the unsung lyrics’ story of Christ’s arrival by sea to (landlocked) Bethlehem. These and other instruments allow Wariner to get to the Christmas heart of his song selections: the Lavaree Steel String parlor-size guitar has a big, sturdy sound deftly utilized by Wariner on “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” with single- and multi-string flourishes of varying intensity, according to the song’s dramatic arc, creating a striking album opening salvo that sets the thoughtful tone for the following numbers, right up to the album closer, “Jingle Bells,” when the Tacoma Papoose is the tool of choice with which to exit the proceedings in lighthearted style, with a rhythmically propulsive, Hawaiian-flavored arrangement spiced by Wariner’s percussive use of the body at points. Unassuming as it is, Guitar Christmas is one of those Yuletide albums that won’t get the attention of more grandiose, overblown, superstar-driven efforts but will in fact occupy the special place for holiday discs that simply endure when others have been blessedly forgotten. In spirit, in mood, in heart, this one gets it right all the way through. —David McGee  

Steve Wariner’s Guitar Christmas is available at

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