Heartland -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By CRYSTAL CAVINESS, United Press International   |   Dec. 12, 2002 at 5:31 PM   |   0 comments

NASHVILLE, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- The country music lover will find no shortage of new holiday music in his or her stocking this year.

Seems all the superstars were in the Christmas spirit, with releases by the likes of Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Patty Loveless, Steve Wariner and more.

Jackson, who has seemingly owned country radio during the past year, ties a ribbon on the last few weeks of the year with "Let It Be Christmas," a CD filled with 10 classics, as well as the title track, which Jackson wrote.

Jackson mixes a healthy dose of Christmas hymns, "Away In A Manger," "Silent Night" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful," with secular favorites including "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town."

In addition to the new release, Jackson was featured Nov. 29 in a special on cable's Country Music Television, where he performed songs from "Let It Be Christmas."

"I've always enjoyed those songs, and appreciated them, and sung them when I went to church and at Christmas time," Jackson said. "I've always wanted to record them."

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of the popular duo Brooks & Dunn said they waited more than 10 years to make a holiday album, because they wanted to put their signature sound on it.

The pair succeeded with "It Won't Be Christmas Without You" as it includes twin fiddles on a high energy "Winter Wonderland," a Western swing version of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" and "Blue Christmas," all done the Brooks & Dunn way.

Naturally, the duo included more traditional arrangements of classics, such as White Christmas," "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "The Christmas Song." There are also three new songs, all co-written by either Brooks or Dunn: "It Won't Be Christmas Without You," "Santa's Coming Over To Your House" and "Who Says There Ain't No Santa."

"If you're gonna do a Christmas record, and you're known for a certain thing, it just makes sense to make a record that's about that," Brooks said. "We got our Mel Torme/Bing Crosby fix in -- which was the coolest -- but then we went full-on into our wheelhouse and really had some fun with it.

"You could spend a lot of time saying it's this or that, but mostly, it's just fun," he said. "If you ask us, that's what we'd like to think we do -- and certainly what Christmas is about."

Patty Loveless has never denied her bluegrass roots, either in her life or her music. She brings that spirit to her first Christmas project, aptly titled "Bluegrass, White Snow -- A Mountain Christmas."

Loveless gathered a host of musical friends to record the acoustic classics ranging from "The First Noel" to "Little Drummer Boy." Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Jon Randall, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton and Ricky Skaggs are among the special guests.

She has included three originals, which she co-wrote with her producer/husband Emory Gordy Jr.: "Santa Train," "Christmas Day at My House" and the title track.

The idea for the holiday project came in 1999 after Loveless was invited to ride The Santa Train, a CSX railroad train that travels through eastern Kentucky and Tennesse in November handing out gifts to children who run to meet the train.

"I had taken time off from the road, and I rode through the mountains around Pikeville (Ky.), where I grew up, and got the chance to feel it all again," Loveless said. "It stirred up the emotions of hearing my mother singing some of her favorite Christmas songs around the house -- 'Silent Night' and 'Away In A Manger.' Then there were the happier tunes I'd hear my brothers and sisters singing, or hear on the radio or the record player. It was then that we started to talk about a Christmas album."

Clay Walker may be the one who took the most straight-ahead approach to his holiday project. Simply titled "Christmas," Walker mixed traditional favorites, such as "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindoor" and "Frosty The Snowman" with religious standards such as "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and "O Come All Ye Faithful."

As a particularly nice touch, Walker added a song that is quickly becoming an annual favorite, "Mary Did You Know" and "Feliz Navidad," a nod to his Texas roots.

Walker brought in the Nashville String Machine and a children's choir to add their touches to the music.

Steve Wariner released a single, "The Christmas Prayer," as a prelude to a new album, "Steal Another Day," that will be out Feb. 4.

In the spirit of the season, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Wariner's single will benefit the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.

In a bizarre twist, talk show host Jerry Springer released a holiday single to country radio. His single, "Pink Flamingos," is a novelty song in the spirit of Ray Stevens. Lest anyone think Springer is headed to Nashville, the song actually was written by veteran songwriters Victoria Shaw and Gary Burr.

Of course, an equally bizarre, but less surprising, entry in the holiday music fare belongs to Cledus T. Judd, perhaps the cleverest musical comedians around. "Cledus Navidad" features wacky standards, such as "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Watchin' You," a Stevens tune.

Naturally, Judd could not leave well enough alone by recording pre-written material. He insisted on adding his own hilarious fare, including "Tree's On Fire," a parody of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and a hip hop parody of "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" called "All I Want For Christmas Is Two Gold Front Teef."

Universal South Records, the newest label on the Music Row block, added its first holiday project to the mix by bringing together bluegrass musicians to perform holiday standards and original tunes. "Christmas On the Mountain" features collaborations by the likes of The Osborne Brothers, the Del McCoury Band, Doc Watson, Mac Wiseman and newcomer Cyndi Wheeler.

Of course, it remains to be seen if it will be a white Christmas. But, no doubt, it will be a music-filled one.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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