Holiday Reviews: Tommy Emmanuel, Buck Owens & Lyle Lovett
Australian guitar player Tommy Emmanuel may just be the single most talented picker of his generation. His finger- and flat-picking are precise yet graceful, with tone that’s clean but still soulful. Emmanuel sticks to his acoustic here, playing in both solo and band settings. It’s the former, in which his syncopated bass runs support the melodies, that is the most mesmerizing. The song list is mostly well-worn chestnuts, but Emmanuel’s sprightly and sensitive renderings make them sound fresh. This album will fit perfectly into many different holiday activities, whether you need background music for family gatherings, meditative instrumentals to unwind after the rigors of shopping, or rich instrumental versions of Christmas classics to set a holiday mood.
Buck Owens was no stranger to holiday recordings, having released Christmas with Buck Owens and his Buckaroos in 1965 and Christmas Shopping in 1968. By the time of this album’s release in 1971, Owens was recording duets with Susan Raye, and riding the tail of their first three hits, this holiday album was released. Ten of the eleven tracks are originals, capped by Raye’s solo cover of Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The songs favor idealistic Norman Rockwell-styled holiday scenes, but there are a few mournful lyrics of missing fathers, absent lovers and tough economic times. Raye sings lower harmonies than Owens or Don Rich, making these duets satisfyingly distinct from earlier recordings of these titles with the Buckaroos. Fans should start their Buck Owens holiday collection with Christmas with Buck Owens, but when you’ve played it to death, this is a good addition to the carousel.
This three-song EP from Lyle Lovett includes jazzy covers of Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here” and Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with vocalist Kat Edmonson serving as harmonist and foil. There’s also a sly new original, “The Girl with the Holiday Smile.” The latter is slated to reappear on Lovett’s next album, but the cool yuletide covers are only available here.