december 2011

christmas treeO CHRISTMAS TREE
Various Artists
Released: 2002

A thoroughly enjoyable, frequently invigorating collection of bluegrass-styled Yuletide tunes, O Christmas Tree mixes new artists with established names, and traditional styles along with progressive approaches. Of its 18 cuts, 13 are newly recorded for this collection, four are from other Rounder albums, and one gem, Bill Grant and Delia Bell's uptempo holiday breakup song, "My Little Silver Bells," is an unreleased track from 1984.

Rhonda Vincent makes two appearances, first kicking off the album with a driving take on Tex Logan's ever-fresh "Christmas Time's A-Comin'," returning later for a hoedown rendition of "O Christmas Tree." Country veteran Jeannie Kendall takes a memorable turn here too, with a gentle reminiscence of hearth and home, "Smokey Mountain Christmas," featuring stellar solos from Rob Ickes on dobro and Stuart Duncan on mandolin. Open Road impresses with a sprightly reading of "Blue Christmas" that opens up mid-song into a brief but jovial sparring match between banjo and fiddle. The Shankman Twins, an interesting new duo, check in with rich family harmonies on a genial, good cheer-infused treatment of "Winter Wonderland." Progressive banjo maestro Tony Trishcka is featured twice, his most notable appearance teaming him in an instrumental duet with guitarist David Grier on an uptempo version of "O Come All Ye Faithful." The Cox Family, the James King Band, Bill Keith, Lynn Morris, Ron Stewart, the Johnson Mountain Boys, and Alicia Nugent all make memorable contributions, but the spirit of the season is summoned in a special way by Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver's a cappella medley of "The First Noel/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear/Joy to the World," with four magnificent high lonesome bluegrass voices rising up in heartfelt celebration of Christ's birth. Ultimately, the beautiful cover image of a father and his small son holding hands as dad drags a fresh-cut Christmas tree up to the farmhouse on a snowy winter's day really says it all about the life affirming spirit abounding in these selections, along with a pronounced sense of traditions being lovingly passed along to future generations. —David McGee

O Christmas Tree: A Bluegrass Collection For The Holidays 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