boles 90Christmas songs in a rough and ready voice, gilded with clear, shiny guitar work

Label: Independent (
Time:  5 Tracks / 16 minutes

Boles has been an Alaskan gold prospector, actor and “oil field roughneck” amongst other things and that fits with his gruff, unvarnished vocal style.

He has also won songwriting awards (a top 4 in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and a listing among the Top 500 Songs of 2010 in Billboard’s World Song Contest).

This gives me mixed feelings about the second of the songs on this EP, “Warm Winter’s Eve in December.” He certainly knows how to convey the human side of a story, but the content seems to features a lot of the Christmas elements that need to come out of songs.

Maybe I am being picky here, but we now know that the inn was more likely a guest room in an ordinary house; that Jesus was more likely to be a stonemason than a carpenter and that his birth was as likely to be June or September as in December. So writing a new song that reinforces the old stereotypes of an inn in December is a bit distracting – and even more when the crowd from the inn pour in, look at the baby and repent. Its syrupy mood seems a bit out of keeping with the earthiness of the incarnation.

Elsewhere Boles picks up popular traditional songs and does particular justice to “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” and “Silent Night.” Producer and long-time sidesman Jim Monahan adds his mandolin and these combined strings dance elegantly around each other. As soon as the opening picking came from the speakers, it gave me great expectations. I think I could listen to the playing for hours.

This surprisingly short disc ends with a reprise of his previously-recorded “Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)” and a relaxed “Go Tell it on the Mountain” that features some atmospheric harmonica. Flute and gentle horns add decorative tone to different tracks.

This combination of great string-work and a voice that wears a cowboy hat will most likely appeal to country fans.

..oh, and when you've finished listening to it, you can put it back in its bauble-like case that conveniently hangs on the Christmas tree. You'll just have to find somewhere else to put it the rest of the year.


Derek Walker