Because Christmas day was a day that was rightfully focused on family as I grew up, I have bright and beautiful memories of my family driving around on Christmas Eve admiring Christmas light displays and the way their colorful lights reflected off of the most-often snow-covered ground in rural upstate New York. Because my parents both prefer country music, the local country radio station 98.1 WHWK, and their 24-hours of straight Christmas music that started annually on Christmas Eve at 6 PM, was usually the soundtrack on such drives. OLD TIME CHRISTMAS by Randy Travis is an album that was brand new around the time that I was in ninth grade and by the time I was in college and only had a couple of Christmas albums that actually belonged to me alone, OLD TIME CHRISTMAS was one of them. It is as thoroughly traditional, conservative country as one can get and, by comparison, certainly fits into a different genre than what populates country airwaves in 2009. But, that is one reason that I like it so much. A few of the tracks such as “White Christmas Makes Me Blue,” and “Oh, What A Silent Night,” neatly wear what many expect a country song to include: loss and misery. However, tracks such as “Meet Me Under The Misletoe,” and “How Do I Wrap My Heart Up For Christmas,” take an entirely different direction with an upbeat tempo and celebratory attitude, while still maintaining the context of Randy Travis’s reserved, country demeanor. Versions of traditional Christmas favorites such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” and “The Christmas Song,” all please, but, my favorite tracks are the title track and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” With the former Travis sings about memories of a nostalgic country family Christmas setting which has a lot in common with the finer points of my own memories and moves me in a way that most Christmas songs don’t. His version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” is simply a beautiful rendition of the classic hymn. I can remember the first time I was really taken in by the beautiful simplicity of his version in 1994 and I haven’t found another version that is better since. As with many other vocalists who have such richly distinctive voices (e.g., Dwight Yoakam, Michael Stipe, Kevin Max), Travis and his undeniably country style are not for everybody. But, for those willing to take a listen and give this album a fair shake during the holiday season they may be surprised at just how wonderful OLD TIME CHRISTMAS is.
Other recommendations for the holidays: