In the dense annual blizzard of holiday albums, A VERY SPECIAL ACOUSTIC CHRISTMAS shines like a gleaming treetop star from a warm, inviting living room, thanks to its organic, no-frills approach and its remarkable lineup of performers. Dan Tyminski (of O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? fame) offers up a charming version of "Frosty the Snowman," while Willie Nelson lends his legendary voice and guitar playing to a fine take on "Please Come Home for Christmas." Alison Krauss contributes her surprisingly poppy "Only You Can Bring Me Cheer (Gentleman's Lady)," Marty Stuart confides that "Even Santa Claus Gets the Blues," and Pat Green saunters through a relaxed "Winter Wonderland." Bringing the Yuletide album to an appropriate close is Norah Jones, in a beautiful solo rendition of Horace Silver's "Peace".
This funky little holiday gem from 1964 was originally released on Sue Records and was actually Jimmy McGriff's highest charting album, rising to number 15 on the pop charts that year. Naturally his gritty Hammond B-3 playing is front and center here, given wonderful support by drummer Jimmie Smith, guitarist Larry Frazier, and Rudolph Johnson on soprano and tenor saxophone. The whole affair is surprisingly energetic and spunky, and tracks like the hard-charging "Christmas With McGriff," the sleigh bell-embedded "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and the lively "Hip Santa" are all wonderful examples of upbeat soul jazz. Even the version of "Jingle Bells" that closes the set is funked up, riding a chugging rhythm and a bed of sleigh bells into the yuletide night. McGriff could have easily gone through the motions on this holiday session, and that he obviously didn't makes Christmas With Jimmy McGriff even more endearing.
The Muppets have sung with so many people over the years, from Elton John to Tony Bennett, yet it has always seemed like their performances with John Denver were somehow the perfect match. Christmas Together is a delightful–what else?–sing-along collection of Christmas favorites as performed by Denver and the Muppets ensemble. While the usual suspects have more than their say here–Kermit, Miss Piggy–the standout piece is "Twelve Days of Christmas." What could be better than a Muppet a day? Denver leads the critters through a tender "Silent Night," which comes couched in a medley that closes with a rousing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." "Deck the Halls" is equally raucous–about as raucous as Muppets can get. Listen for the subtle lyric adaptations and the witty exchanges between Denver and his minstrels. Definitely not just for kids.