This Christmas album almost redeems “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus” (Reba doesn’t sing it cute) and features about the slammingest version of “Up on the Housetop” you’ll hear short of those punk Christmas albums that were popular for a season or two in the mid-eighties. But its focus is new material.
Such New Age hymns as “One Child, One Day” and “Mary, Did You Know?” will appeal to you if you think of Christmas and get an automatic tingle. The latter features this quatrain: “Did you know / That your baby has walked where angels trod; And when you kiss your little baby / You’ve kissed the face of God?” If you can’t listen to that reverentially—or at least suspend disbelief—then (as Dionne Warwick advises you) “Walk On By.” If, however, you still well up when Linus reveals the true meaning of Christmas, then step right in.
While the title cut is a little too inspirational and secular, too machine-tooled for non-denominational gatherings, another track here goes further still to lodge a new, not Christian, song among the standards. That would be “Santa Claus is Coming Back to Town,” and it will test your holiday resolve. In it, the narrator tells us that her ex-husband (who “was always Santa Claus” to the kids) will be coming home to keep the season and that she must muster her courage: “They’ll be glad to see him, I’ll be barely hanging on.” It is terrific weepy country, the kind of song that Reba McEntire does better than anyone else today, and I wish it weren’t on here. It’s too good to fade into the background, but makes every other song seem naïve or chirpy.
The production, by McEntire and David Malloy, is slightly more traditional (e.g., fiddles abound) than her slicker efforts, which means that it sounds exactly how a contemporary country Christmas album ought to sound: well-scrubbed, but true to its roots. If it pays homage to ideals, both musical and religious, that seems a little old-fashioned to today’s country audience, but such nostalgia is one reason that we have holiday albums in the first place.
Reba dedicates Secret of Giving “to Jesus, to whom I sing for everyday.” That may not parse, but it suggests why you’ll want this one.
// Notes from the Road
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