It’s been half a century since Loretta Lynn released her last Christmas album, 1966’s A Country Christmas. To say that much has changed in the time since would be an absurd, cruelly dismissive understatement. For starters, Lynn herself was only three years into her recording career, having released her debut LP, the inconspicuously titled Loretta Lynn Sings, in 1963. By the end of 1966, she would have a total of 10 LPs under her belt, well on her way to becoming the doyen of country music royalty she is today. Now, 12 years after her seemingly improbable resurrection at the hands of noted fan Jack White, Lynn has, with White Christmas Blue, released her second album of 2016.
Recorded during the same intimate sessions with John Carter Cash – himself the descendant of country royalty – that produced March’s Full Circle, White Christmas Blue carries with it every bit the same look, sound, and feel. Still, in impressively fine voice, Lynn knows she’s nothing left to prove and, because of this, relies on a perfectly workmanlike back-to-basics approach. Unfettered and unfussy, White Christmas Blue is every bit the Christmas album you would expect Loretta Lynn to record: an excellent mixture of cornpone country (“To Heck with Ole Santa Claus”), twangy sentimentality (her aching read of “Away in a Manger”) and straight-ahead “classic” country performed by an artist who knows no other kind (“White Christmas Blues,” “Country Christmas,” et. al.)
At its heart, White Christmas Blue offers a utilitarian view of a simpler time in both the sentiments behind each song and the manner in which they are performed. Indeed, the only thing separating these performances from those of A Country Christmas is a warmer production and a slightly more worn set of vocals from Lynn herself. Other than these contemporary identifiers, White Christmas Blue could have just as easily come out in 1966 or 1976 or, heck, even 1956. In other words, there’s nothing here that would date-stamp these recordings as being of the time in which they were laid to tape. And as with the best Christmas music, this complete detachment from time and space helps aid in its perennial relevancy and relatability.
By including a handful of re-recordings of songs that appeared on her first Christmas album, Lynn demonstrates the axiom of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, as her read of each remains largely stylistically true to the originals. This “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach suits her well as she provides here that which people know and love about her in the first place. There’s no sense going about any reinvention this far into her hall of fame career, and she’s keenly aware of this as she sticks to simple arrangements, straight-forward vocals and the laidback air of a bygone era.
This traditionalist approach is then the aural equivalent of a Norman Rockwell Christmas: it’s an idealized version of an earlier era built around kith and kin sat cozily around the fire while telling stories and singing songs of the season. There’s a warmth and intimacy to Lynn’s performances of these Christmas standards ranging from the secular (“Blue Christmas”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “White Christmas”, et. al.) to the divine (“Oh, Come All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, et. al.) that serves as a sort of grounding point for a time a year built on tradition and nostalgia. By elegantly tapping into each, Lynn, with White Christmas Blue provides fans with a collection that can be returned to time and again with the same heart-warming familiarity of faded photographs and video images of Christmases past. By closing the album with a spoken recitation of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”, Lynn plays the role of loving grandmother perfectly, making White Christmas Blue an ideal gift for fans of traditional country music and the holiday season in general, warming all but the coldest of hearts.
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