This year is remarkable in that two new banjo Christmas albums were released, and both are wonderful, though you have to have a bit of an adventurous musical spirit to appreciate them. First, Evergreen, from the Alison Brown Quartet. Alison offers up beautiful, somewhat jazzy arrangements of traditional favorites, along with more recent additions to the Christmas canon, such as "Welcome Christmas" from Dr. Suess's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and "Christmas Don't Be Late" from Alvin and the Chipmunks. Her sound is what I imagine the Vince Guaraldi Trio would have sounded like with a banjo.
Next we have Jingle All The Way from Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. This is not your average Christmas album, and it has some stunning playing on it. Their version of "Sleigh Ride" has just been nominated for a Grammy. They do "Twelve Days of Christmas" in twelve different keys, and twelve different time signatures. You pretty much have to hear it to believe it. And Victor Wooten's solo rendition of "The Christmas Song" is so amazing you won't believe it is being played on a bass. And Christmas really wouldn't be Christmas without some Tuvan throat singing, don't you agree?
And two of my all-time favorite Christmas CD staples are Tony Trischka's Glory Shone Around, and Bobby Horton's Songs of the Christmas Season. Tony's has a great variety of cuts from an all-out bluegrass "Precious Child," to shape-note singing, to solo minstrel banjo, to a wonderful story, read by John Hartford. Bobby Horton is a musical historian and renders Cival War-era carols on mostly period instruments, as they would have been played in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. It is lovely, peaceful music. I highly recommend it.