Stubbys House of Christmas       
 
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1.  God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
2.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
3.  Jingle Bell Rock
4.  Good King Wenceslas
5.  Angels We Have Heard on High
6.  The First Noel
7.  O Holy Night
8.  I’ll Be Home for Christmas
9.  Silent Night


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John Keane started out as a musician, but, along the way, he became a producer and recording engineer and the owner of John Keane Studios in music rich Athens, Georgia.  John's studio has played host to everyone from Vic Chestnutt to The B-52s, from REM to The Indigo Girls. John was even nominated for a Grammy for his work on Widespread Panic's "Dirty Side Down".

But it's not as though John stopped making music.  He plays on many of the records that he mixes, engineers, and/or produces.  It's also become something of a tradition for John to perform at Christmas time with his daughters, Rachel and Paige--twins who are now 17.  Some of these performances are spontaneous sessions at neighborhood parties and sometimes they are planned, arranged, advertised performances at area theaters.  John, Rachel and Paige have also made a habit, in recent years, of recording holiday songs for family and friends.  Beats the heck out of a Hallmark card.

"O Christmas, Where Art Thou?" is the natural progression for the annual holiday singing of We Three Keanes. And what an album it is.  The music is not just earnestly played and sung, though it is that; it is sung and played magnificently.  The harmony vocals provided by John and his daughters are about as perfect as perfect gets.  At times, We Three Keanes have a sound that's reminiscent of the Southern California country rock sound of bands like Poco and the Eagles.  At times, their sound is more southern and traditional, like the Isaacs.  And, when Dad takes the lead on "Good King Wenceslas", the sound is a little more Folk Pop, a la James Taylor or Dan Fogelberg.

The album opens with a rousing country rock medley of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings".  If the album ended there, it would still be an amazing effort.  There is some fine picking on the guitar, here, some steel guitar, some banjo--all mixed impeccably--but it's already clear that the vocal talents of the three are the stars of the show.  We Three Keanes seal the deal on the very next track, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel".  These harmonies are just too beautiful to describe.  They sparkle like the sun on new fallen snow.

The Keanes add a little kitsch with "Jingle Bell Rock".  The sisters soar on "Angels We Have Heard On High".  On "The First Noel", the family sounds a bit like a female led Rascal Flatts.  Dad's steel guitar adds just the right color to a gorgeous "O Holy Night".  "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is one part Amy Grant, one part Everly Sisters.  And "Silent Night" wraps up the album in glorious style.

The arrangements are simple and straight forward, the instrumentation is understated and meticulous, and the harmonies are simply unbelievable.  In a world that sometimes seems chaotic and out of control, the simplicity of this album is a welcome relief.  At the end of a long hard day, "O Christmas, Where Art Thou?" is the perfect elixir to help you unwind.  This is the perfect record for turning off the lights, turning on the Christmas tree, putting your feet up and watching the Christmas tree lights blink and glow.  In no time at all, you will feel the stress of the world washing away.  In the end, I believe "O Christmas Where Art Thou?" is the answer to it's own question.  "O Christmas, Where Art Thou?"  Christmas is right here.  

Do me a favor and buy this album.  Because this should not be a one-off.  I need more albums like this one in my life.  You can get the download version at the major on-line retailers, such as Amazon and iTunes, but I suggest you buy the physical CD while you can, which is only available right now from John Keane Studios.
 
 
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1.  O Come, All Ye Faithful
2.  O Holy Night
3.  What Child Is This?
4.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel

5.  Silent Night
6.  We Three Kings
7.  I Wonder As I Wander
8.  The Wexford Carol


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JOHNSON ROBERTS ON FACEBOOK

Johnson Roberts and his wife Lee Ann spend most of their time making other people sound good.   As a songwriter, arranger and musician, Johnson has had a hand in numerous projects in the Music City, as has Lee Ann as a vocalist.  You can hear the fruits of their efforts on albums from such well-known artists as Julie Lee, Point of Grace and the Newsboys.  And, just last year, Johnson served as co-producer, arranger and musician for Jessie Kol’s brilliant “Little Emmanuel”, giving the Jazz artist’s set an organic feel and just enough rustic tinting to separate “Little Emmanuel” from the multitude of Jazz vocal holiday albums on the market (of course, he couldn’t have achieved that without Kol being a truly extraordinary singer to begin with).

For all their efforts on other records, Johnson and Lee Ann had never had the opportunity to collaborate on a project.  “Good People All, This Christmas Time” gave them that opportunity.  They also invited Lee Holland—another talented Nashville producer and musician, and good friend—to help create this Christmas record. 

I was looking forward to listening to “Good People All, This Christmas Time”, having been intrigued by the 30 second clips on Amazon.  Forget them.  They do not do this album justice at all.  There’s a quote on Johnson Roberts’ Facebook page that reads: “If you’ve ever wanted to hear instruments speak, listen to the music of Johnson Roberts.”  I had thought that to be hyperbole but it turns out to be an understatement.

That the musicianship on “Good People All, This Christmas Time” is some of the finest I’ve ever heard is only a part of the story.  Roberts is magnificent on the violin and Holland seems to play every instrument known to man with ease.  The music lives, though, because it is infused with the souls of its creators.  And I am sure they would tell you that that is because they put into the music all that God put into them.  “Good People All, This Christmas Time” is some of the finest Appalachian/Roots/Americana Christmas music you’re likely to encounter, but it is also one of the most honest, authentic and uplifting worship albums I’ve ever heard.

Musically, the album begins with an instrumental rendering of “O Come, All Ye Faithful”.  Starting slow and simple, the music builds like a stairway to heaven (take that any way you want) and we are treated to some remarkable picking from Mr. Holland and some equally agile violin playing from Mr. Roberts as they wrench more emotion and jubilation from that song than I even knew was there.  If you have any affinity toward Christmas music whatsoever, you’ll love this interpretation of this classic carol.

“O Holy Night” isn’t the “O Holy Night” you’re familiar with, but rather an original worship song written by Johnson and Lee Ann Roberts.  In a way, “O Holy Night” is the album in microcosm, reworking old concepts into something unquestionably fresh and new.  And it is nearly impossible not to be moved as Lee Ann’s voice soars.

“What Child Is This” and “I Wonder As I Wander” feature the vocals of Lee Holland.  Holland sings with a bit of a Rod McKuen rasp, but his vocals are loaded with a kind of sincerity and genuine love that Mr. McKuen could never have approached.

“Silent Night” is reworked, here, into a gentle and rhythmic folk number.  The repeated refrain “Sleep in heavenly peace.  The world will come soon enough” is incredibly affecting.

“We Three Kings”, the album’s second instrumental, recalls the best of David Grissman’s and Bela Fleck’s work in organic acoustic jazz.

“The Wexford Carol”, from whence comes the album’s title, closes it out in appropriately glorious fashion, with more exquisite musicianship from Johnson and Lee and more soaring vocals from Lee Ann.

Because I love and write about Christmas music, I get a lot of questions about my faith.  Not to disappoint anyone, but it isn’t about that for me, in the main.  I relate to Christmas music as music, first and foremost.  But neither am I without faith or soul.  And a Christmas album that reaches me so profoundly on that level is both rare and wonderful.

“Good People All, This Christmas Time” works on so many levels that I’ve barely scratched the surface.  It is wonderful music for music’s sake.  The album is beauty in its simplicity, handcrafted with love.  It’s raw, but it’s real.  But, most especially, this album can cut through all the scar tissue on your heart, set a spark in your soul, renew and refresh your faith, and lift you up spiritually…if you’re willing.


If you're lucky enough to live in certain parts of Tennessee, you may come across one of the few hard copy CDs that are being distributed locally.  Otherwise, you'll find the album in digital form available at iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, Spotify, and other download distributors.