(1993 Arista Records)
by Sandra L. Toney
This review originally appeared in the November/December 1993 issue of Beat Magazine
Alan Jackson's latest release, Honky Tonk Christmas, is a non-traditional Christmas album saturated with Jackson's infamous honky tonk style. Delighted that he bypassed the customary songs, such as "Silent Night," "White Christmas," and "The Christmas Song," I fell in love with his diverse collection of holiday tunes. The classic Christmas songs will always be close to my heart; however, Alan Jackson's versions of "Honky Tonk Christmas" and "Merry Christmas To Me" will now be among those all-time favorites.
Jackson, who co-wrote such blockbuster hits as "Don't Rock the Jukebox" and "Chattahoochee," only used his writing skills on one song on the album, "Merry Christmas To Me." This melancholy ballad, which is a familiar theme in country music, is about a shattered relationship that leaves one party lonely and dejected (in this case it is Jackson). He blames himself for ending up alone on Christmas as he croons, "I'm the fool who let you leave. Merry Christmas to me."
To entertain the child that lives in all of us, the talented Jackson gets vocal assistance from none other than everyone's favorite cartoon critters, the Chipmunks. Not one of my personal favorites, their duet with Jackson, "Santa's Gonna Come In A Pickup Truck," adds some fun to the album. Speaking of fun, Alan's rendition of "A Holly Jolly Christmas" (the song Burl Ives made famous), adds a playful, but pleasing, familiarity to this unusual album.
Besides teaming up with Chipmunks, Jackson receives help from Alison Krauss, who's beautiful voice makes "The Angels Cried" perhaps the best song on the album, although it is far from being a honky tonk tune. And, never intended to be a Christmas song, A.J. takes an original Merle Haggard song, "If We Make It Through December," mixes in the "twang" of a banjo, and has the perfect honky tonk Christmas melody.
One thing that the album lacked was the number of spiritual selections. Besides the touching single, "The Angels Cried," only one other spiritual choice appeared on the album -- "There's A New Kid In Town," which was originally co-wrote and recorded by the late, legendary Keith Whitley. Also missing the honky tonk flavor that the rest of the album exhibits, "There's A New Kid In Town" makes the most of today's musical technology. Jackson used an old demo of Whitley singing this song, then dubbed his own voice in, thus becoming one of the most brilliant male duets that I've had the pleasure of hearing.
All in all, Alan Jackson's first attempt at a Christmas album has turned out better than most because he chose to avoid those much-loved, traditional, but nevertheless WORN-OUT Christmas favorites. Instead, he selected songs such as the wonderfully reckless title hit, "Honky Tonk Christmas," the gloomy but realistic "Please Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)," and the upbeat, declaration-of-love song, "I Only Want You For Christmas." Alan Jackson's Honky Tonk Christmas is destined to become a Christmas classic.
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