Santa Arrived a Little Early…via the Crooked Road

John and JoeJoe with Gerald at Wayne's shop, Rugby, VA, Christmas 2010.
John and JoeJoe with Gerald at Wayne’s shop, Rugby, VA, Christmas 2010.
Long-time friend and master picker/luthier, Gerald Anderson sent me a copy of Christmas along the Crooked Road. He is the the musical producer along with Wesley Easter. Gerald draws on some of the finest of southwestern Virginia’s established and developing music community with just the right amount of nutmeg, cinnamon and cheer for a timely new addition to my holiday music collection.

Deck the Halls, appropriately, gets the festivities started. Steve Lewis’s Scruggs-style banjo picking has an infectious bounce that reminds me of a baby gently bouncing on his daddy’s knee. Helen White lends two lovely songs to the collection, the first of which, Christmas Promise, she wrote.

The last two times that I have been to Grayson County at Christmas, huge winter storms dropped snow measured in feet, cut off power, and made travel challenging to say the least. But I am once again ready to head back. Spencer Strickland, a guitar and mandolin builder himself, makes all my memories glisten with Winter Wonderland. Steve Lewis and Jimmy Edmonds drop in with some swinging guitar and fiddle, respectively.

Gerald’s sincere baritone on Silent Night is surrounded by beautiful supporting harmonies on the chorus. His vocal part on I’ll Be Home for Christmas is tastefully paired with Jimmy’s fiddling. I am forever entertained by versions of Blue Christmas. Hearing Wayne Henderson pick it out on one of his own guitars is the instrumental equivalent of hearing Del McCoury croon the King’s holiday lament.

Jeff Little’s piano playing for What Child is This? is a welcome change-up to the guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle instrumental leads. You are going to want to invite him over to play the piano at your house after hearing this track.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town includes three young artists, Savannah Little, Jeffrey Roten and Daniel Greeson from the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM). The JAM website taught me a lot about the organization’s mission and educational opportunities. The links to instructional and master musician footage are phenomenal regardless of one’s age. Can you all guess what my son JoeJoe’s favorite cut is on this album?

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen enjoys many treatments by folk, old-time and bluegrass musicians. I especially like versions by the Weavers, Sheila Kay Adams and how Steve picks it on guitar here with Josh Scott singing. Gerald’s guitar picking on Joy to the World is melodious and includes just the right amount of adornment.  The cut is less than two-minutes so I just play it over and over.

Away in a Manger closes the album. The lyrics sound in my head as Jimmy plays fiddle. A couplet discovered while writing this post, “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender Care” resonates with me especially this Christmas season and with this recording.

Christmas along the Crooked Road is available at the album’s website.