Prime Cuts: Tennessee Christmas, Still Can't Sleep, Christmas for You and Me
At the risk of caricature, Amy Grant's career can be divided into three stages. Prior to the 90s, Grant was the queen of CCM. During this first tenure, her songs were transparently Christian. #1 hits such as "El Shaddai," "Sing Your Praise to the Lord," "Father's Eyes" and "Angels" were distinctly Christian in content. But come the next decade, Grant became part of the big diva explosion at the pop charts. During this second era of her storied career, Grant continued to have hits both on the pop and Christian charts. But as expected, the songs became more nebulous in terms of their Christian content. Nevertheless, songs such as "Hope Set High," "Helping Hand," and "House of Love" still have enough traces of spirituality for her Christian fans. After her commercial pop heyday, Grant enters into her third era where she returns back to her spiritual roots without the same CCM force. Her music has become more folky, slower, and certainly more ruminative.
Interestingly, in each of Grant's three stage-career, she has released at least one Christmas album. Released in 1983, "A Christmas Album" was staunchly a CCM product nestling well within Grant's CCM prime. Then to commemorate her pop diva days were her 1992's "Home for Christmas" and 1999's "A Christmas to Remember." Now, gone are her days fighting for #1s on both the pop and Christian charts. In her slower and folkier epoch, comes "Tennessee Christmas." Reflective of her third trimester, "Tennessee Christmas" is not a hurried affair. Every song here is warmly executed with the soft shimmering of acoustic instruments. Though there are uptempos, they are not overpowered by zany guitar riffs or ear-popping drum blasts. Rather each song takes its time to bring out something special about Christmas, its meaning, its traditions, and its celebrations.
The title cut "Tennessee Christmas" was written by Grant and her former husband Gary Chapman 33 years ago! Nevertheless, the song has stood the test of time. The picturesque lyrics and the song's ageless melody have a way of making Christmas incarnate right in front of our speakers. Besides this original, the album surprisingly has an abundance of freshly penned tunes. The country-influenced "To Be Together" is also to be applauded for its piquant observations where the song details the challenges people faced in going home for Christmas. Most delightful is "Still Can't Sleep." Capturing so much the child-like excitability of Christmas approaching, Grant has never sounded so jovial and fun.
More toe-tapping comes with the irresistibly catchy "Christmas for You and Me," a song that makes you want to literally dance around. With a spoken introduction, Grant goes personal by telling us some festive stories in her household with "Christmas Don't be Late." "Melancholy Christmas," as the titular suggests, is on the morose side where Grant sings in a breathy fashion over a song that never takes off. Much better is the acoustic guitar-driven "Another Merry Christmas" where Grant strings together a few heartbreaking stories of people's loss at this time of Christmas. Just when you thought this song is all doom and gloom, Grant reaches the song's twist, when she tells us that amidst such brokenness, "God is with us." The last lines of this song are just brilliant.
Hubby Vince Gill shows up as Grant's duet partner on one track. But do they have to do the cheesy "Baby, It's Cold Outside?" Other than such a misstep, "Tennessee Christmas" is up there with Grant's 1999 "A Christmas to Remember." Wonderfully chosen songs and lovingly performed, this album is definitely a strong contender for "Best Christmas Album for 2016."