Ricky Skaggs,
A Skaggs Family Christmas, Vol. 2
(Skaggs Family, 2011)

It hardly seems likely but it is time to think about Christmas once again, and Ricky Skaggs and his family are out to make it easy for you, placing your holiday listening and viewing in one package. A Skaggs Family Christmas, Vol. 2, which is, of course, a followup to 2005's first volume, offers a CD's worth of finely arranged and beautifully played and sung seasonal songs, as well as a 26-song concert DVD filmed at the Ryman Auditorium.

The album features up-to-the-minute performances of most old, traditional songs, some recorded in the studio, some lifted from live performances. Because the entire family performs on the album, it doesn't take on the predictability and sameness that sinks so many Christmas albums. Lead vocals are shared, passed around the family so that everybody gets a time in the center. No single voice or instrument predominates. It opens with a spirited version of "Christmas Time's a Coming," which would be a complete bluegrass romp if it weren't for the string orchestra behind them that mellows it out a little. Following that, Ricky's wife Sharon and her sister, Cheryl, swap lead vocals on "Light of the Stable," and then Skaggs returns to sing lead on the a capella version of "The First Noel." The harmonies of the White sisters float beneath Skagg's voice as if holding it aloft. Even the kids get a shot: Molly Skaggs, Ricky's daughter, sings "What Songs Were Sung" and brother Luke leads the band in a gorgeous instrumental he wrote for the occasion, "Flight to Egypt."

There's not a bad cut on the CD and, trust me, if I, who am not a fan of Christmas music, was won over by A Skaggs Family Christmas, Vol. 2, then you can take my word for the fact that it's well worth repeated listening.

The DVD presents what appears to be the entire road show version of A Skaggs Family Christmas. The stage is literally littered with musicians. Ricky has the entire family, in-laws, offspring and spouses up there, along with his band, Kentucky Thunder, and a 16-piece string section. Most of the songs from the CD are performed live on the DVD and a whole lot more are offered, which is, to me, both the strength and the weakness of the DVD. Scrooges like myself can easily live without another version of "White Christmas," "Deck the Halls" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," all of which appear on this concert film. That said, they are lovingly and sincerely presented, so that people more holiday happy than I am will enjoy them.

What can I say? Despite the fact that there isn't a single moment of irony on the CD or DVD, despite the fact that the chestnuts are hauled out for a fresh roasting, the Skaggs Family melted this old cynical heart and won me over. They'll do the same for you.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

19 November 2011

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