by Al Kaufman
Every year around this time some of the bigger artists release their Christmas CDs. Then they store them away in January and pull them back out again in November. It creates a guaranteed seller for at least one month out of the year. This year is no exception. For the Christian rockers, the reunited Sixpence None the Richer has their release, for the soulful crowd there is Brian McKnight, and for the aging adults who still think they're cool, they have Sheryl Crow.
With Evergreen, Alison Brown offers something a little different; namely a bluegrass Christmas. Unlike bluegrass' better known Alison, this one plays the banjo instead of the fiddle. But like her namesake, she is clearly a master of her instrument. In many cases what Brown has done is take two familiar carols and meld them together, creating a familiar but fresh composition that skillfully epitomizes the feel of the season.
"Carol and the Kings" opens the CD. It is a disarming blend of "Ukrainian Bell Carol" and "We Three Kings," and is the perfect introduction. It is here that listeners learn to become accustomed to hearing carols emanate from banjos and fiddles. But is not bluegrass music the music of the country; the music of farmers and, dare I say, mangers?
Joe Craven's fiddle and mandolin work complement Brown's banjo well, and John Burr's piano on "Sleigh Ride" is as gentle as a sparkling new snowflake.
While it may seem sacrilegious to hear the theme from the Charlie Brown Christmas, "Christmas Time Is Here," plucked out on a banjo, once the USN Singers join in, it is easy to imagine all the Peanuts kids skating around on the pond. This is a wonderful CD to trim your tree by. It's pretty and pleasant, and goes down well with a glass of egg nog.