As the weather gets colder and lights, tinsel, and garland start appearing at stores everywhere, it’s easy to know Christmas is getting closer. And with that also comes Christmas music, and the release of new holiday albums by some of our favorite artists. Among the earlier releases this year is Jeff Parker’s It’s Christmas Time, out now from Lonesome Day Records.
Parker’s follow-up to his excellent Go Parker! solo release is a fun, well-done collection of ten tracks ranging from traditional Christmas favorites to a few newer songs that fit in nicely with the rest of the project. He ventures a little outside of bluegrass with several numbers, adding in steel guitar, piano, and drums, but there’s also plenty of banjo, mandolin, and fiddle to be found.
The first track at first seems to be a strange choice for a bluegrass album – Elton John’s 1973 holiday hit Step into Christmas. John’s version has a groovy 1960s feel and plenty of his trademark piano, but Parker turns it into a driving number anchored by Jessie Baker’s blazing banjo. It’s a fine, upbeat introduction to the album. Another cover, though from a bit closer to home, is the title track, a Louvin Brothers number from the early 1960s. It has a peaceful feel, with Parker replicating the smooth vocals from the original and B.J. Cherryholmes providing nice, understated fiddling in the background.
Two songs here were previously covered by Larry Sparks on his Christmas in the Hills album. Parker has obviously drawn inspiration from Sparks’ version on Bill Castle’s Birthday of Our King, an enjoyable mid-tempo traditional-sounding song that reminds listeners of “what the Christ in Christmas means.” Blue Christmas, on the other hand, has much more of an Elvis feel, complete with rich, soulful vocals from Parker. It’s one of the several tracks on the album that has a more country sound due to the addition of piano and drums.
Next Year, a newer tune by Randy Moore and Perry Rohrer, has a fully contemporary country sound. It’s a touching song about a soldier who promises to be home by next Christmas, but when he’s killed in battle, his family finds comfort in a Christmas card he sent. Christmas in Dixie, on the other hand, looks back to classic country of the 1970s and 80s. Fans of Alabama’s original cut of this song will love Parker’s version – his vocals sound remarkably similar to Randy Owens.
Of course, a bluegrass Christmas album wouldn’t be complete without Christmas Time’s a Coming, and Parker gives us a cheerful, traditional version. Cherryholmes’ fiddling stands out here, and there are solid instrumental breaks from Baker, Parker (mandolin), and Seth Taylor (guitar), as well.
While Parker is currently known as a sideman for Dailey and Vincent, his solo releases have proven that he is a fine front man as well. It’s Christmas Time is a thoroughly enjoyable album, with a nicely varied song selection (though the most traditional fans might pause a bit at the country-leaning tracks here). There’s also strong musicianship from Parker and company, which, in addition to Cherryholmes, Baker, and Taylor, also includes Mark Fain (bass), Paul Hollowell (piano), Bob Mummert (drums), Terry Crisp (steel guitar), and Thomm Jutz (guitar).
For more information on Jeff Parker, visit his website at www.jeffparkermusic.com. His new album can be purchased from his website, as well as iTunes and Amazon.