Top positive review
The Best New Christmas Collection This Year
December 4, 2013
Every year, I search for a great new Christmas album to add to my collection. With more than 11,150 Christmas songs in my collection since I began in 1987, I've heard everything. Good and bad. When you find a holiday album that is simply perfect in every way, it's a cause for celebration. This year, that perfect album is "An Appalachian Christmas."
I was excited to find out that America's greatest living violinist, Mark O'Connor, had self-produced and released a holiday collection. As a fan of his amazing talent (bluegrass, jazz, classical, folk) and output over the years (his work with Yo-Yo Ma, plus his score for "LIberty: The American Revolution" is simply outstanding), I couldn't wait.
It doesn't disappoint. Working in every genre and style, while keeping true to his "Appalachian" sound (he's actually from Seattle), O'Connor's Christmas collection is a true Christmas gem. From the opening jazz-influenced "The Christmas Song" with guest vocalist Jane Monheit, to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (originally released on Amy Grant's "Home for Christmas" album), to the classically-inspired songs with soprano Renée Fleming, every song sets a tone of introspection and celebration that is hard to match.
Those looking for a strict bluegrass, vintage "Appalachia" album will be quite disappointed. The vocals lack twang. The "fiddle" sound comes and goes. It's not "Appalachian" in style, but it is in substance: a celebration of home, tradition, warmth, goodness, and friends. Listening to the album almost feels like you were invited in to O'Connor's home for a Christmas Eve party, with his friends from various walks of life all there, and they just started singing what came out of their hearts. It's a beautiful, simple, and stunning album.
Standouts for me include his collaboration with Alison Krauss on the old "Slumber My Darling" by Stephen Foster, which now feels like a quiet lullaby between Mary and the baby Jesus. Krauss' pure voice is matched by O'Connor's gentle playing, and it's a beauiful moment in an album full of them. I also enjoyed James Taylor's salute to an old dog--which really adds to that atmosphere of friends gathering together and singing from the heart. O'Connor's rendition of his collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma, "Appalachia Waltz," closes the album, reminding us once again that he is a master not only of style, but of substance.
Looking for a truly beautiful album you'll play year after year? Look no further. This is a Christmas collection that stands next to the greats.