A musical holiday cornucopia, with a few laughs, some warmth, nostalgia, and introspection…

Tennessee Christmas
Amy Grant                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               www.amygrant.com
Capitol CGM Label Group
13 tracks / 42:60

The idea of another Amy Grant Christmas album might not cause a ripple of excitement to jolt the more jaded CCM veteran listeners out there – especially one with a title so familiar that you might think it will be nothing more than a collection of Amy’s greatest Christmas hits – but Grant continues to produce thoughtful, mature work, and this new recording certainly manages to surprise and delight. Tennessee Christmas is, in fact, the singer’s first new Christmas project in almost two decades and the nearly twenty years of musical maturity shows.

The girl smiling out from the cover of her self-titled debut in 1977 is now a woman, a wife, and a mother, with plenty of accumulated experience in life and the music industry. Whether by design or coincidence, the title song, “Tennessee Christmas,” has the same place in the track order that it originally held in Amy’s A Christmas Album some 36 years ago – but that’s where the similarity ends. Grant sounds totally comfortable in her own voice, well aware of her own strengths and weaknesses as a singer. She’ll never be a Celine Dion/Whitney Houston belter, but she has a warm, earthy tone and what can only be called a distinctively Amy Grant phrasing. Her an honest, vulnerable ballad style slips easily into a teasing pop or half-whispered love song. Here, she waxes nostalgic, playful, and even a bit wistful and it all works. 

Tennessee Christmas starts out with the aforementioned title track followed by the contemporary AOR/country “To Be Together,” a piano-driven holiday treat with a great hooky chorus. The lighthearted, bouncy “Christmas For You and Me,” would never have made CCM radio with the line, “Santa brought me a bottle of wine / soon we’ll be feelin’ fine,” but Grant is now doing music for grown-ups who will make up their own minds about Santa Claus (what – you thought I was talking about the wine?). Every Christmas album seems to need that one lonely holiday song, and on this album it’s “Melancholy Christmas.” It’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. The airy, breathy, “December,” is a more musically interesting version of an introspective reflection on the day and the season – a Christmas love song, and a delicate, well-written treat…

 The big surprise about Tennessee Christmas is that, from this point on (with a few notable exceptions), it becomes an unexpectedly jazz-driven album. “White Christmas” is a cool jazz accompaniment to Grant’s breathy, tasteful, straightforward vocal, “Joy To The World” gets a slow, thoughtful jazz-inflected treatment, Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” swings appropriately (with a convincingly 1940’s vocal from Amy), and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” featuring Vince Gill, is playful, nostalgic, and, yes, for grown-ups.

“Christmas Don’t Be Late” is the same song we grew up with hearing Alvin and the Chipmunks sing on the radio. This time it’s Amy and we all instinctively sing along. The spoken word portions are sentimental and maybe a touch over-the-top (okay, I guess hearing your own kids sing in harmony makes sentiment fair game). “Still Can’t Sleep” is light and, yes - a bit jazzy,

The wonderfully thoughtful, “Another Merry Christmas,” is a profound reminder that the holiday doesn’t bring the same feelings to everyone. “Billy’s home from overseas / The pride of his whole family / Still fights a war that no one sees… Another merry Christmas.”

“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” beginning with nostalgic spoken words, is the benediction of the project. Tennessee Christmas is indeed a holiday cornucopia, with some light-hearted holiday cheer, a few laughs, some warmth, nostalgia, and introspection. It’s a Christmas album for us kids who – like Amy - have grown up but still understand the specialness of the day…

- Bert Saraco