The cover scan of this Martin Johns comp doesn't do it justice. It's a rich paper with silver snowflakes impressed into the border along the top - warm touches indeed!
On the inside cover of this comp (see below) is an explanation behind the term "breaking up Christmas":
"Every Christmas, for 150 years or more, the mountain families of western North Carolina and Virginia have gathered in the simple homes of their neighbors.
"They eat, drink, and dance to the music of the banjo and fiddle players, stationed in the doorway between rooms - for TWO WEEKS, thru little Christmas (January 6th).
"They call their celebration 'Breaking Up Christmas'."
You learn something new everyday! Thank to the almighty Google, I've found there are not one but two online sites which discuss this further. Amazing but true!
Scanning over the playlist, this looks like a Christmas bluegrass / mountain music extravaganza! Which is good considering I've woefully low on Christmas bluegrass.
We ask Martin for his special insight on this comp in a section we've reserved for him entitled...
This one was for Woody, who loves Bluegrass but has patiently sat through all my other stuff all these years. Even the "Bluegrass" tapes I'd done in the cassette days were as much Folk as Bluegrass (technically, I titled these tapes "Christmas in 2B" - see notes for "Progressive Christmas V4").
This one does have a dash of Old Timey, but, really, how can you NOT include a song (a standard of "Breaking Up Christmas" festivities) entitled "Squirrel Heads And Gravy"? Woody, and his lovely wife Maureen, also gave me the Banjo Dan CD ("The Catamount Is Back" - not a Christmas CD) and it took me years to find just the right spot for "Winterland Dream".
1.) About as pure bluegrass as you can get. Paul Brown sings for 15 seconds twice on the song, mentioning the term "breaking up Christmas" both times. To some, this is Christmas music!
2.) Ashley MacIssac plays a mean fiddle and takes the revered spiritual "Go Tell It On The Mountain" and pumps some needed life and fun into the song! From his 1993 "Cape Breton Christmas" CD.
3.) The First Family of Bluegrass Gospel Music singing about their favorite holiday and musical genre - quite well! Find this foot stomper on their "20 Bluegrass Christmas Favorites"
4.) Banjo Dan doesn't play banjo on this - shocked? Guitars, fiddle, and mandolin make up a good non-Christmas Christmas song! Taken from the aforementioned "The Catamount Is Back" CD.
5.) Great band name - but should The Rarely Herd be trusted? Their cut off the "Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas" comp is superb but they're wearing suits and ties throughout!
6.) If you're looking for a good starter bluegrass Christmas CD, try Patty Loveless' 2002 Christmas album. This song is a great cross of toe-tappin bluegrass and fun Christmas.
7.) A 1:01 instrumental - packs a good wallop! Thankfully, nothing is mentioned about the mountain food delicacy or serving sizes.
8.) WOW! Ever wonder if a bluegrass artist witnessed the birth of Christ? Then listen to this great track from Timothy P. Irvin & The Rocky Mountain Stocking Stuffers' "Bluegrass Christmas" CD!
9.) Inez Lancaster might have the best title of any Christmas CD I've reviewed today - "Snowed In With A Mandolin On Christmas Day"! This fantastic instrumental version of "Joy To The World" is on there as well!
10.) Here's a bluegrass song about Christmas shopping and its evils - extremely witty and catchy to boot! Tim O'Brien recorded this in 2002 for the "Christmas On The Mountain" comp.
11.) Another good starter bluegrass Christmas CD! Name a stringed instrument on this song and Rhonda Vincent can probably play it - doggone good version of this one!
12.) The Osborne Brothers were the first to record "Rocky Top" - the official state song of Tennessee and possibly the most popular bluegrass song ever. This is their revisit to Rocky Top - at Christmas! From what comp did this one come from?
13.) WOW! The Dixon Brothers had one great decade of music together but their influence lives on. A great 1930s bluegrass track from the "Papa Ain't No Santa Claus" Christmas comp!
14.) Liked this song very much but I can't find anything about Damascus Road or what the source of the song came from.
15.) I'm guessing this is what a modern-day "breaking up Christmas" would sound like. The Isaacs recorded their Christmas album back in 2000 - out of print already? Uh oh...
16.) A classic bluegrass track off the "Light Of The Stable" CD - one of the best Christmas country albums of all time. Emmylou Harris turns 60 next Monday (April 2) - still looks and sings better than a lot of Nashville's current favorite females. Happy Birthday Emmylou!
17.) The Country Gentlemen fueled the bluegrass / folk explosion of the 1960s. This is a great Christmas song (and I can't find it on a comp or album anywhere)!
18.) A slow bluegrass Christmas song with so much soul, it's scary! Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers really do an amazing job on this one - find it on their "Christmas In The Hills" CD.
19.) WOW! Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver give this one a gospel quartet feel and it is perfect (so I'll accept them wearing suits)! From their 1991 Christmas album (OOP I'm afraid).
20.) Very spiritual bluegrass Christmas song from The Bluegrass Cardinals. This was released on the 1993 "Sugar Plums - Holiday Treats From Sugar Hill".
21.) Spiritual bluegrass, heavy on the bluegrass! Alecia Nugent has a fine voice and recorded this for the "O Christmas Tree" comp (see #11 above).
22.) The East Tennessee tradition is carrying on with The Larkins. This one's a musical road map ("It's Christmas in Chicago...")! Can't get much more eastern Tennessee than this: off their "Christmas At Dollywood With" CD
23.) Ol' Doc Stanley sings us a great bluegrass tune! This is from his 1993 Christmas album appropriately called "Christmas Time".
24.) They don't call him Fiddlin' John Carson for nothing! WOW! Off the "Where Will You Be Christmas Day?" comp from Dust-To-Digital. Bill Monroe took this incredible song, abbreviated it to "Christmas Time's A-Comin' ", and got all the glory.
25.) The GrooveGrass Boyz fused bluegrass and funk (of all things!) with some help from Bootsy Collins (of all people!). No funk on this - straight bluegrass pickin' "Auld Lang Syne". From the "Christmas On The Mountain" comp (see #10 above).
26.) This song is probably required playing during "breaking up Christmas". This is a very nice, laid back rendition by the Cox Family. Another track from "O Christmas Tree" (see #11 above).
27.) Patty Loveless rounds this one out with a fine track from her Christmas album (see #6 above).
You nailed it perfectly Martin. It blended nicely, each track brought a different sound to the table but didn't stray from its roots too badly, and the flow worked well.
I would be fibbing if I didn't say that after a while, some of it sounded the same. But Martin changes courses ever so deftly and steers the bluegrass ship from crashing onto the shore and into the calm sea.
After listening to this, I think "breaking up Christmas" is a fine tradition. Everyone should take two weeks off at Christmas and hold house parties left and right. It would promote brotherhood, the Christmas spirit, and get you prepared for the long winter ahead. But does it have to be bluegrass music for two weeks straight?
UP NEXT: JohnsCDs 2005-0960-026 - I Got A Rock For Christmas