Upon learning that Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers would be releasing a Christmas album, I was filled with anticipation. Mullins and his band have always maintained a high level of consistency on their recordings with vocal harmonies, instrumentalism, and song selection. Because It’s Christmas Time on Billy Blue Records has all of that and more.
The title track, Because It’s Christmas Time features a vocal harmony stack that isn’t particularly common with the Radio Ramblers. Featuring Joe on lead vocals, this song showcases the tenor singing of mandolinist Chris Davis. It’s a nice change up and a fun song to get things started.
The Manger and No Room at the Inn talk about the birth of Jesus Christ in slightly different ways, and are performed in contrasting styles. The former written by Jeff Pardo, Matthew West, and Anne Wilson is a contemporary piece which reflects on the effect that this event had on the world. The latter by Jimmie Davis and Anna Banks is rendered in a traditional vein and retells the events of Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem.
From My Broken Heart To You was written by guitarist Adam McIntosh and his sister Angie Lewis. It’s a brilliant take on the common lament of lost love that’s set within the holiday season. Chris Davis delivers an emotional performance on this track, which is complemented by the triple fiddling of Jason Barie.
Reindeer Boogie and Run Run Rudolph are both Christmas classics. The former was originally recorded by Hank Snow in 1953. The Radio Ramblers’ rendition of this song makes for a fun listen. The latter, fist recorded by Chuck Berry in 1958, is literally and figuratively one of the most electrifying performances on this entire project. Featuring Davis on electric mandolin and lead vocals, this highlight track allows everyone to shine. It particularly features great instrumental performances from Mullins on banjo, Jason Barie on fiddle, Adam McIntosh on guitar, Randy Barnes on bass, and Mike Rogers on percussion.
Christmas At The Old Home Place is sung by Randy Barnes and was written by his father, Earl. It’s a wonderful sentimental piece about the family traditions that surround the Christmas season.
Another highlight of this recording is the closing track, Old Fashioned Christmas. Written by Bluegrass Hall of Famer, Paul Williams, and recorded during his time as a member of Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys, this new rendition fittingly features Williams’ delivering the heartfelt spoken recitation. It’s a beautiful way to end the album.
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers have knocked it out of the park once again. With the combination of great material, solid vocal harmonies and musicianship, this is an album that’s destined to be ranked alongside the Christmas recordings by Larry Sparks, Rhonda Vincent, and other bluegrass luminaries. It’s the perfect recording for the holiday season.