Deck the malls

This season's Christmas album offerings

--R.M.

Christmas with the Louvin Brothers
The Louvin Brothers
Razor & Tie

Maybe it's my legacy as a youthful choirboy, but in my book, holiday music is made for harmonizing; and when it comes to country harmony, Ira and Charlie Louvin were probably its greatest practitioners. Hence this reissue of their album of traditional Christmas fare (coupled with two Louvin holiday originals from a separate single release) sounds wonderful and fresh some four decades later. Given the spiritual concerns and influences in the Louvins' oeuvre already, it would only seem natural for the brothers to lend their awesome backwoods vocal mix to the songs of the season. And if you're a fan of traditional country and also happen to like Christmas songs, you've probably never heard "O, Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night," "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," "The First Noel," and other standards sound so humane and delightful. Especially enchanting are their takes on such classically rooted songs as "Good Christian Men Rejoice" and "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks." "The Friendly Beasts" takes what could be hokey and makes it as heartwarming a holiday selection as you're ever likely to hear.

The simple old-school Nashville arrangements suit the sentiments here beautifully. Ultimately, this disc reinforces the notion that Christmas carols are basically folk music, and within the supple grip of the Louvins' talents, these songs play to my ears with a spirit made anew, which befits the message of Christ's birth. One of their originals, "It's Christmas Time," has a heavenly sweetness, but the other, "Santa's Big Parade," is little more than a piece of holiday cotton-candy fluff, charming as it is. The only other flaw here is the occasional chorus of "proper" singers trading with and backing up the Louvins, but it only underscores the genius and appeal of their naturalistic country-folk vocal blend by comparison. To me, Christmas music has rarely sounded so sweet, sincere, and deep as it does here.

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