Prime Cuts: Tennessee Christmas (with Vince Gill and Amy Grant), Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, O Holy Night
His long flowing silver mane, his signature goatee, his huge glittering buckle belt, his glistering black cowboy boots, and his deep Southern raised accent certainly makes one think that Guy Penrod is plucked right out of a scene in one of those cowboy western movies. Indeed, over the years, Penrod has used his Southern pedigree to the advantage of God's kingdom. From 1994 up till 2009 Penrod has been singing the Lord's praises with the famed Gaither Vocal Band. Together they have carved the mark of God's love across the globe with their engaging Southern Gospel music. And since his retirement from the Gaithers, Penrod has gone on to release three solo records. "Christmas" follows on the heels of the just released "Worship."
Both "Christmas" and his preceding record "Worship" have more in common than it first meets the eye. For starters, both albums both share a one word titular. Second, both releases consist of entirely covers with Penrod tackling thirteen tried and true worship anthems for the earlier release while "Christmas" finds him luxuriating in 15 traditional Yuletide favorites. Third, both records have a more polished and refined sheen relative to many of his earlier Gaither Vocal music. With the producer of Amy Grant, Whitney Houston and Michael W. Smith, Michael Omartin on the helm, "Christmas" finds its muse more in jazzy intonations and big band lush orchestration than the rustic sonic nestle of fiddles, steel guitar and mandolin.
The record takes on a relaxing, easy going, and languid pace slowing down the holiday rush as Penrod puts his gorgeous tenor to work on the album opener "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Brassy horns get dusted as Penrod does a Perry Como cum Frank Sinatra redivivus with "Sleigh Ride." "Winter Wonderland" continues along the same musical trajectory with some do-woop Motown thrown into it. Then he goes a acappella with "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" before being backed by a soaring chrus of angelic voices. While Penrod's family joins in for a fun-filled "12 Days of Christms."
Long-time friend Amy Grant gets a couple of nods here. Grant and hubby Vince Gill join Penrod on an emotionally rich rendition of Grant's "Tennessee Christmas," a homely ode that conjures up lots of nostalgia, a song that is fast becoming a modern-day seasonal classic. Again Grant's "Breath of Heaven" gets the attention as Penrod records a pretty soporific rendition of it. Fans who prefer to hear a more "country" version of Penrod would indulge in the fiddle and steel driven "A Cradle in Bethlehem." While many lesser artists would have butchered "O Holy Night," Penrod sings it with restrain, care and rumination. With its track list concentrating on familiar material, this release will definitely not tickle the fancy of those who prefer a more avant garde approach to a Christmas offering. Nevertheless, if you want someone who honors the time worn traditions of the yuletide season and still sing with flourish and verve, "Christmas" ought to make it on your Santa's list.