My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: ‘A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume Two’

Ricky Skaggs and his gang are back with a follow-up disc to 2005’s A Skaggs Family Christmas. Like the first volume, this one finds Ricky sharing the spotlight with his wife Sharon and her family The Whites, and their children. Rather than focusing just on bluegrass, as one might expect, it features a variety of musical styles, recorded both in the studio and live in concert, which provide for a an enjoyable, if at times somewhat disjointed, listening experience.

Released on the independent Skaggs Family Records label, the album avoids sounding like a typical, slickly produced Nashville product. During its best moments, one can easily envision the family sitting around the living room singing these songs on Christmas Eve. Songs such as the opening “Christmas Time’s A-Comin'” on which Ricky sings lead, and “Light of the Stable” on which his wife Sharon White takes the lead, sound like live performances that were captured on tape, which only adds to their charm. Sharon’s voice sounds a little strained on “Light of the Stable”, but it’s still an enjoyable performance, though it can’t compare with Emmylou Harris’ definitive 1975 version. An a cappella version of “The First Noel” is a live in concert recording, featuring Ricky on lead vocals with harmonies provided by Sharon and Cheryl White. My two favorite tracks, however, are “Reunion Song”, a mainstream country effort complete with pedal steel guitar, which is reminiscent of Ricky’s 1980s heyday, and “Children Go”, a collaboration with The Whites, which has more of a bluegrass sound.

The Skaggs children also make contributions to this collection. Son Luke composed the instrumental “Flight To Egypt”, on which he also plays lead guitar, joined by sister Molly on piano. It’s an impressive performance that gives credence to the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This is another live in concert performance, with accompaniment by The Nashville Strings, which gives the tune a more polished feel. Molly’s version of “What Songs Were Sung”, on which she sings and plays piano, may be one of the album’s few missteps. Though beautifully arranged and sung, it is too different in style from the rest of the album and doesn’t seem like it belongs her. The same can be said for the closing track, an instrumental version of “Joy To The World” on which the Skaggs Family does not perform at all. It is instead, a solo performance by The Nashville Strings. It is well done, but again, it seems out of place here. A more stripped-down song with different members of the family taking turns singing the lead, would have been a more appropriate album closer. I did, however, very much enjoy Molly’s take on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, which is beautiful from start to finish.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable album, though it does suffer at times from a lack of cohesion, due to the different musical styles showcased and the use of both studio and concert performances. There’s nothing new or revolutionary here, just some good old fashioned singing and picking, with some added strings here and there for some added holiday polish. Fans of Ricky Skaggs and The Whites will not be disappointed. It is currently available for download for the bargain price of $3.99 at Amazon.

Grade: B+

2 responses to “Album Review: ‘A Skaggs Family Christmas, Volume Two’

  1. Ken Johnson December 19, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I was rather disappointed with the first Skaggs Family Christmas album because there was way too much “family” and not enough Ricky. It appeared that Ricky was more concerned with providing a platform for his kids rather than pleasing hardcore Ricky Skaggs fans. Appears that may be the situation here once again so I will likely pass on this one.

    One of the things I really dislike on holiday albums are newly written instrumentals. What’s the point? Those songs have no definitive connection with Christmas and become nothing more than filler. If an instrumental is to be included it should be a recognizable Christmas/holiday/winter song or don’t waste your time. I’ll only skip over it and I’ll bet most others will too.

    Agreed that though Emmylou’s “Light Of The Stable” is a hard version to top I must give credit to the Judds for their excellent rendition. Released on the now out-of-print 1984 RCA various artists compilation album “A Country Christmas Vol. 3” (RCA 5178-2-R) that track was not included on the Judds’ 1987 Christmas album. It’s worth searching for.

    Ricky released a recording of “Children Go” (aka “Children Go Where I Send Thee”) as the final track for his 1983 Sugarhill/Epic album “Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown.” Extremely well done. A promotional single of that tune was released to radio stations and garnered substantial holiday airplay in the mid-1980’s when Ricky was burnin’ up the charts.

    • Razor X December 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm

      I have that RCA volume with the Judds track and it is very good. Not quite as good as Emmylou’s but a close second.

      I don’t mind that Ricky is sharing the spotlight with the family; it’s clearly labeled as a Skaggs Family project and not a Ricky Skaggs album. As for the new instrumentalists, people complain that Christmas albums all have the same songs on them, so I can’t really object to an attempt to offer something new. 🙂

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