For “Tennessee Christmas,” her fourth holiday album but her first in nearly 20 years, singer Amy Grant offers a mellow and satisfying collection of songs that look back on her own family’s most memorable seasons and traditions.
Recorded in the home studio she shares with her husband, musician-producer Vince Gill, “Tennessee Christmas” is just what you’d want it to be — colorful as a shiny new ornament, comfortable as a beloved Snoopy pillow, and at times, as familiar as a favorite old stocking.
Yet the album has had its share of critics. Christian retailers have refused to carry it, apparently because Grant, best known as a contemporary Christian singer, focuses more on the human celebration of Christmas than on overt messages of Jesus and religiosity.
But there is still much to like here.
Throughout, Grant, who has sold more than 30 million albums, mixes jazzy takes on Irving Berlin standards with traditional carols (“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World”) and contemporary musings on love and loss, as well as personal reflection.
The title song has a special history. “I first recorded ‘Tennessee Christmas’ in the summer of 1983 at Caribou Ranch,” she writes in the liner notes. “I was 22 years old. My two grandmothers were included in a family photo on the foldout record jacket. Thirty-three years later, I am still singing this song. And guess who’s got a grandchild now?”
She wrote “Tennessee Christmas” — her first ever holiday song — with Christian singer Gary Chapman, who was then her husband. Though the two endured a bitter divorce in 1999, when she reprised the song for the new album, she told Nash Country Daily’s Lisa Konicki, “We met for coffee, and I got to give him the good news that I had recorded that song again and we toasted with our coffee cups. It was so, so wonderful.”
On the new album, Grant relaxes with Gill, her mate of 16 years, on the romantic “Christmas for You and Me.” The two also make light work of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Frank Loesser’s classic flirt-fest, which they perform in their annual Christmas shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
The holidays — so happy for so many — can also be a time of grief or sadness for many other people, especially those who are alone. And Grant acknowledges the seasonal blues in three songs, “Melancholy Christmas,” “December,” and “Another Merry Christmas.” By including these numbers, Grant seems to encourage listeners to do their own outreach. In the latter song, which she wrote with Ed Cash, she warmly sings, “Our painted old nativity/Is fragile like the lives we lead/Silently reminding me/God is with us.”
It’s a lovely image, and one of many thoughtful lyrics in this welcome CD of joyous and bittersweet songs, all wrapped up with a bright bow of love and gratitude.