The following review was written by MKOC reader and commenter Ken Johnson:
My favorite holiday albums are those that reflect the true style and sound of the individual artist. Nothing has been more disappointing than when my favorite country star abandoned their distinctive style to morph into Nat “King” Cole or Bing Crosby complete with a lush orchestra and chorus. Brad Paisley did not make that mistake. His 2006 Brad Paisley Christmas CD mixed all-time standards with original holiday songs to perfectly mirror his style, personality, humor and versatility. Those are also the very qualities that helped Brad to win the Entertainer Of The Year Award from the CMA this year.
A bright and twangy “Winter Wonderland” leads off the collection. Brad modified the lyrics by adding lines about fellow Grand Ole Opry member Jim Ed Brown. He gave nods to two of Jim Ed’s best known hits: “Pop A Top” and “The Three Bells.”
In the meadow we can build a snowman and pretend that he is Jim Ed Brown.
We’ll sing “Pop A Top” with Mr. Snowman with chapel bells a-ringing all around.
“Santa Looked A Lot like Daddy” revives the Buck Owens – Don Rich 1965 holiday classic. Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt both recorded versions for their Christmas albums during the 1990’s that have kept this song alive on country radio holiday playlists. Brad doesn’t spare the twang here either by adding extended improvisational instrumental solos.
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” begins with the song’s often deleted original intro.
I am dreaming tonight of a place I love even more than I usually do.
And although I know it’s a long road back, I promise you
I’ll be home for Christmas…
Brad’s laid back vocal blends perfectly with understated orchestration punctuated by outstanding lead guitar solos and smooth steel guitar and fiddle fills. This is my favorite track on the CD.
“Away In A Manger” is generally performed as a gentle lullaby but receives an unusually coarse arrangement. Loud honky-tonk style guitar and fiddle set a rather harsh tone. The intense closing guitar solo belongs on a barroom anthem rather than on the ending to this beloved Christmas carol. I award Brad high marks for creativity but the result was not very soothing.
“Penguin, James Penguin” co-written by Brad and his producer Frank Rogers offers a cute concept using James Bond as the role model for a penguin who acts as Santa’s secret agent spy to watch over all of the little girls and boys via the latest technology. Quite clever though I don’t think Rudolph has anything to worry about.
Brad’s first version of “364 Days To Go” was released on a various artists CD, Country Christmas 2001, sold exclusively at Target stores. The song receives a fully produced arrangement here compared to the very sparse acoustic original version. This rendition provides a far better showcase for the song. Co-written by Brad the scene describes Christmas night:
As another Christmas ends my mind drifts and once again
I’m thinking like a six year old only 364 days to go
He means until next Christmas of course. However I doubt most parents would share his sentiment after a very long Christmas Day.
“Jingle Bells” gets a rockin’ instrumental treatment while “Silent Night” is treated with the reverence that this beautiful carol deserves. Acoustic guitar, mandolin and piano frame Brad’s gentle vocal. Mike Johnson’s exceptional dobro performance on this track deserves special mention. The steel guitar and fiddle solos on “Silver Bells” just couldn’t be better. Brad’s vocal brings traditional country to a Christmas song about the city.
Before I comment on the two remaining tracks, I need to add my two cents about holiday albums. I’ve always believed that the best Christmas albums hold up to frequent and repeated listening during every holiday season. Put them on your sound system and they provide either foreground or background listening enjoyment. Novelty songs or gimmicks may be fun or interesting for a listen or two but they can usually become tedious rather quickly. That’s why these next two tracks fall short for me.
“Born On Christmas Day” begins with a “live” onstage recording of thirteen year old Brad Paisley making his first official appearance on the Jamboree U.S.A. radio program. Brad performs his own original holiday composition that is surprising strong given his tender age. Following the first verse and chorus the song smoothly segues into Brad’s 2006 studio version and then concludes by transitioning back for the conclusion of his vintage live performance and the audience applause. It’s interesting to hear Brad at the dawn of his career. However this is a truly great original Christmas song and it would have been wonderful to have included a new full length studio version. This “hybrid” mix of the two renditions would’ve made an ideal bonus CD track holiday treat.
“Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday” is a yuletide sequel to comedy bits featured on two of Brad’s earlier albums. George Jones, “Little” Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson join Brad to poke fun at the “politically correct” folks that object to saying “Merry Christmas” or to using other Christian holiday terminology. This track intersperses Brad’s vocal chorus with “bleeped” out words by his friends that some folks may consider to be politically incorrect. During my very first listen I found this track to be silly and annoying. Clocking in at more than five minutes it definitely does not hold up to repeated plays. The “hidden” bonus track #12 is little more than “Little” Jimmy Dickens reading the script for thirty-three seconds so it’s not really much of a bonus. If you transfer your music to an iPod or a mix CD you’ll probably want to overlook dubbing these final two tracks.
Brad should be most proud of creating an original and festive country holiday album that offers a variety of songs and sounds. This CD receives my A- rating (if you exclude those unnecessary Kung Pao tracks).