Skaggs Family,
A Skaggs Family Christmas,
Volume One

(Skaggs Family, 2005)

The Skaggs Family is, strictly speaking, two families: the Skaggses and Whites. Ricky Skaggs, bluegrass-turned-country-turned-bluegrass artist, married Sharon White of the Whites, an acoustic-country group and Grand Ole Opry mainstay led by father Buck White. The present group includes Ricky, Sharon, Buck, Cheryl White and assorted children, plus other musicians, among them members of Ricky's much-praised band Kentucky Thunder.

There is a lot of talent here, and the results are suitably professional. They're also too slick to be consistently inspiring. It is, of course, difficult -- though certainly not impossible (consider Emmylou Harris' enduring masterpiece Light of the Stable) -- to create a Christmas recording that transcends weary Yuletide cliches. Performers seeking originality sometimes try to approximate -- or in any event reimagine through a creative blend of traditional and modern -- how Christmas carols may have sounded when they were first sung, sometimes centuries ago. More often, however, performers opt for less demanding, more commercial arrangements in which even the most venerable holiday anthems leave the studio clothed in the fashion of current pop tunes.

A Skaggs Family Christmas is an instance of the latter. In other words, the occasional non-pop-genre diversion aside, this is not, as one might have expected or hoped, a bluegrass exercise, nor is it even particularly a country recording. There are acoustic stringed instruments, but there are also, on some cuts, synthesizers conjuring up faux violins and imitation cellos. More pleasingly, Celtic touches, reflecting Ricky's fascination with Irish folk music, are occasionally in evidence. In fact, the CD's high point by far, Ricky's mandolin-driven instrumental version of "Deck the Halls," perfectly fuses bluegrass and Celtic sounds. Buck also does a satisfying reading of the tear-jerking tale-in-verse "The Christmas Guest," which the late Grandpa Jones used to recite every holiday season from the Opry stage.

Other than that, the material consists of blandly selected secular and sacred chestnuts as well as some recent compositions of modest interest from the Nashville song factory.

by Jerome Clark
10 December 2005

Buy it from