I sort of have this thing for bald, bearded, bespectacled folk musicians. Seriously, when you really think about it and start naming names… Michael Card, Jeff Taylor, Ron Block, Buddy Greene… you start to wonder if it’s the lack of hair, the beard, the glasses, or perhaps all of the above. (Of course there’s just an outside chance that it’s a coincidence.)
Anyway, it was a great thrill to me that I got to meet three of said musicians all in the space of a year. First it was Michael Card, at a dinner concert. Then Jeff Taylor, unexpectedly at a Keith and Kristyn Getty concert. Finally, Buddy Greene at a Gaither Homecoming. Seriously, I feel as though I’ve attained the height of cool having met all three of those guys. And I have glasses, just like they do. Now I’ve just got to start working on the beard and the hair loss. That part might take a little while, but it’ll all be worth it when I emerge as a superior folk musician.
Oh yes, this was supposed to be an album review. Well, it’s like this: You might recall that Buddy Greene offered me his latest album for free, but it was already on the way for Christmas, so he let me have my pick of the others. My eyes lit upon his 1998 Christmas project Not Just Any Night. After salivating a little, I snapped it up and promised Buddy I would enjoy it.
And so I did. Let me just get this out of the way right now: You need this Christmas album. I know, you don’t know you need it, but take my word for it that you do. Don’t even pause to find samples. Buy it sound unheard.
But if you really need convincing, I’ll do my best to give you a few reasons in this review.
The Star On Top: In an album with about as many stars as the night sky, it was painful to pick just one. But upon contemplation, there was one track that did stand out: Buddy’s cover of his and Mark Lowry’s classic “Mary, Did You Know?” While the Gaither Vocal Band’s version takes a long time to build to a triumphant climax, Buddy’s version flows at a medium tempo and rises until it peaks at a whisper, with his gorgeous falsetto lingering on the line, “the praises of the Lamb…” It is the best version of the song I’ve ever heard.
Golden Rings: I am going to use up all five slots. This album is that good.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Joy to the World” — This purely instrumental harmonica and piano duet is a joy to listen to. David Huntsinger, whose golden touch on the keys pervades the entire album, joins with the inimitable Buddy for a simple, yet infectious medley of the two classic carols.
“Glory to God in the Highest”: Don’t confuse this song with the quartet classic popularized by Signature Sound. This is a different, Buddy-penned song. As with much of this album, I’m going to say think Michael Card. This song is memorably crafted in every way. Lyrics and melody mesh perfectly. It’s sweet.
“Little Drummer Boy”: I first heard this arrangement when Buddy forgot the lyrics at that Homecoming concert. Unlike most arrangements of this carol, the drums really don’t take center stage. It is simply and sweetly carried by guitar, with some very light percussion providing the needed rhythmic under-current. An unexpected key change leads into a section where the lyrics are replaced with “la-la-las,” before going back to the original key and continuing with the song. The drums become just a little more prominent as the guitar, mandolin and accordion gently bring this low-key arrangement to a close. The final touch is a single, golden bell which rings out over the instruments several times as they fade out.
“Christmas Time’s A’Comin”: Buddy took this country romp and slowed it down a good deal at the Homecoming concert. It works very well both ways. On the album, it breezes along at a fast clip, almost over before it’s started, delightfully carried by Buddy’s self-conscious country squeak.
“Go Tell It On the Mountain”: Every now and then, Buddy indulges his inner black gospel singer. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but bespectacled folksy white brotha got a little soul in him! This take on “Go Tell It On the Mountain” really rocks, in the best possible way. All the classic instruments are there—the gospel piano, the B-3 Hammond, the smoky, bluesy guitar, and, of course, the harmonica. Buddy is backed up by Ashley Cleveland, who layered together several tracks of her rich, throaty voice to provide the essential backup singers (no black gospel tune is complete without backup singers).
Stocking Stuffer: The most Michael Card-ish track on the album is the quiet, contemplative “The Servant’s Way.” The lyrics, written by Dan Fox, are exceptionally beautiful, as is the melody (a traditional Irish tune). I could easily see Keith and Kristyn Getty doing this.
We owed a debt only He could pay.
He died to show the servant’s way.
And we must die a little every day
As we live the servant way of Jesus.
Stale Cookies: NONE
Coal in the Bottom: NONE
This is the sort of album that won’t force itself intrusively into your Christmas celebration if you put it on in the background. But if you should have a moment to lend an ear, it will quietly and simply bless you. It is one of the best Christmas albums I have ever heard.