That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 38: Joy to the World: A Bluegrass Christmas
In 2009, Blue Hat Records released their last album through distributor E1 (or eOne) which had acquired Koch/Audium who had been Blue Hat’s distributor since 2001.
Koch/Audium/E1 had some success with a Bluegrass Christmas series called ‘Christmas Grass’ with three volumes previously released. Essentially, Charlie Daniels & Friends ‘Joy to the World: A Bluegrass Christmas’ was unofficially volume four in the series with dad being the lead artist this time around, even though he did not sing lead on every song.
As with the previous ‘Christmas Grass’ volumes, ‘Joy to the World’ is a who’s who of country and bluegrass elite, and one folky pop singer.
It’s a heartwarming Christmas album with two special non-musical Daniels Christmas Eve traditions included which I’ll talk about later on.
The album kicks off with The Grascals performing “Tex” Logan’s “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’,” made famous by the great Bill Monroe.
It’s probably the best-known bluegrass Christmas song even though it has been covered by countless artists, both country and bluegrass, but most arrangements have leaned toward the bluegrass, although Sammy Kershaw’s cover had a bit more of a Zydeco feel to it.
It’s a perfect way to start off the album.
Aaron Tippin lends his voice to my favorite of dad’s original Christmas songs with “Christmas Time Down South,” from the album of the same name.
This song always paints such a warm and inviting picture of Christmas in the south. We may not always have snow at Christmas, but we celebrate just as big, and this song manages to bridge both the festive feel of Christmas with the true meaning of the holiday with no apologies, “Jesus Christ was born this day, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Jewel sounds surprisingly at home on “Blue Christmas,” for someone who was best known for the pop hits “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant For Me” in the mid 1990s, but she was embracing her country roots by 2008 and 2009.
The soft arrangement and Jewel’s vocals are filled with the proper amount of yearning for the most lonesome of Christmas songs.
Dad finally takes center stage with “Mississippi Christmas Eve,” a song he first recorded back in 1990 on the ‘Christmas Time Down South’ album.
The original track was essentially a bluegrass song, so it wasn’t much of a stretch making this fit on a traditional bluegrass album.
Much like “Christmas Time Down South” it’s about celebrating Christmas in smaller rural areas of the country which don’t have the big city decorations or snow regularly, but that doesn’t damper the Christmas spirit one bit.
“Hallelujah” is another track from ‘Christmas Time Down South’ one that was written by Bruce Ray Brown and also appeared on ‘A Merry Christmas to All.”
The lyrics tell the story of the Nativity with shouts of “Hallelujah” and the special celebration of His birth every year.
The arrangement is obviously more bluegrass than the previous versions, but it’s always one of the highlights of all of dad’s Christmas albums.
Dad’s favorite Christmas song is featured next “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)” Featuring Dan Tyminski, best known as George Clooney’s singing voice on “Man of Constant Sorrow” from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
This version features twin fiddles and very sparse instrumentation, but the simplification seems to bring the heart of the song more to the forefront. It’s a vivid description of the picture-perfect traditional Christmas.
“O Come All Ye Faithful” features Kathy Mattea with dad providing prominent harmonies, and they blend together nicely. Kathy has a strong voice, not strong in the Carrie Underwood high note super power style. Instead, she’s got a very rich lower register, but plenty of power behind those vocal cords.
It speaks of those journeying to see the newborn King to adore and worship him, and the heavenly hosts heralding His birth.
It’s a lovely spin on a beloved traditional Christmas song.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” features Evelyn Cox from The Cox Family. There’s a feeling of urgency to the arrangement, reminding us of the story of our Savior’s birth with “tidings of comfort and joy.”
An instrumental section uses the melody of “Greensleeves”/”What Child is This.”
I’m sure it’s just a stylistic choice, but the feeling of urgency can describe the urgency of needing to have a relationship with Him.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it.
“Joy to The World” starts off with a feel not unlike “Rocky Top” banjo and all, and features dad taking the lead vocals again.
There was a verse in this arrangement that I wasn’t familiar with, it begins with “No more let sins and sorrows grow.” Most versions I remember hearing leave this verse out, so it was nice to hear what the full structure was meant to be.
It’s a unique take on a Christmas classic, full of bluegrass charm.
Two of the last three tracks are Daniels family Christmas Eve staples and have a lot of sentimental meaning to us.
On track 11 is a reading by dad of the Christmas story from the Book of Luke 2:1-11, the King James Version which is what we always think of as the definitive translation of the story, but dad would read it every year on Christmas Eve up until 2019.
2021 was the first year we did a full Christmas Eve gathering in our house after dad went home, rather than take on the responsibility of reading the sacred verses myself, I let dad do it by playing this recording.
It was emotional, to say the least.
Next, Suzanne Cox, Evelyn’s sister and fellow member of The Cox Family sings “Silent Night” which pretty much all of us know by heart since childhood. The song speaks of the night of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
Sleep in heavenly peace, little baby. One day, You will save the world.
The final track on ‘Joy to the World’ is the other Daniels Christmas Eve staple that dad would read every year, “A Carolina Christmas Carol.”
It’s a story dad wrote in 1984 and read to us every year on Christmas Eve. It’s about a young boy growing up in North Carolina who spends Christmases with his grandparents, only to have an older cousin tell him there’s no Santa Claus, and after much inner turmoil, he finally gives in and accepts that as fact.
The boy, Curtis – now an adult- is invited by his grandparents who want all the children and great grandchildren to come and spend one last Christmas with them while they are still able, and he thinks that is the perfect place for his young daughter to spend the first real Christmas she will remember.
However, Curtis and his wife both forget to pack her presents, and late on Christmas Eve night, Curtis realizes the blunder and is horrified about what awaits on Christmas morning… but then some Christmas magic kicks in.
Later, Curtis even gets to rub some of that Christmas magic in the face of the cousin who told him there was no Santa Claus.
It’s a wonderful heartwarming story, and I look forward to hearing it every year.
It is one of my goals to see a TV movie of some sort based on this produced one day. It’s that good.
In 2021, we listened to dad read it like we did the Christmas story from Luke, but in 2022, I read both of them, for better or worse.
But that’s not all that is included in the CD, the original pressing also included a DVD of the TV Special, “A Twin Pines Christmas” which aired on GAC in 2009 to promote the album, most of the stars, except Jewel, appeared on the special which was not actually recorded at Twin Pines, but rather on a sound stage. Almost everyone involved returned, except Suzanne Cox sang “Blue Christmas” with dad instead of Jewel. There must’ve been a scheduling conflict.
The special aired in 2009 and again in 2010, but has been on the Qello streaming service since around 2014 or - of course - on the CD/DVD set.
The ‘Joy to the World’ album was dedicated to the memory of one of the biggest stars of the Grand Ole Opry, Little Jimmy Dickens.
To a man I admire so much,
Little Jimmy Dickens, in my eyes
His star will never fade.
Charlie Daniels, 2009”
Next, the CDB goes Off the Grid… Dylan style!
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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