Okay, so I’m no Grinch—Christmas is actually my favorite time of year—but when a musical artist (particularly a new one) releases a Christmas album, I get a bit skeptical that it might be a “phone-in”, a label ploy to shove a mediocre product on the market and squeeze a little extra money from the fans. Thankfully, newcomer Scotty McCreery doesn’t fall into the “phone in” category; he’s actually turned in a respectable performance, giving us an early taste of the Yuletide spirit with Christmas with Scotty McCreery.
When the deep-voiced teen country singer won top honors on American Idol Season 10, he was thrust into the spotlight, and while he certainly had potential, McCreery still carried himself like someone wearing shoes that were waaaay too big for him. And yet, every time I see or hear him perform something new, he grows into these shoes a little more. And while a Christmas album typically doesn’t give a new artist the chance to strut his stuff, I have to say that McCreery carries himself more naturally as an artist on this record than on anything else I’ve heard from him so far.
As to the songs on the record—well, you can pretty much guess. Mostly standard Christmas fare, played/sung with a country twang. You won’t find a lot of originality on tunes like “Let It Snow,” “Jingle Bells” or “Winter Wonderland”, but you will hear some nice arrangements of those familiar tunes, and McCreery’s vocals are quite pleasant over them. Perhaps more notable are the solid faith leanings, with songs like “The First Noel,” “O Holy Night” and “Mary, Did You Know.” The two originals on the record, “Christmas In Heaven” and “Christmas Comin’ Round Again,” are also faith-based; the former, in particular, comes from two LifeWay Worship songwriters, and while perhaps a bit misguided theologically, it actually plays pretty well as a country song.
That segues into the two missteps I find on the record. The first deals with the song I just mentioned, “Christmas In Heaven,” which is about missing a loved one at Christmas. I’m all for honest treatments of emotion in songs, but sometimes lyricists cross the line into deliberately trying to squeeze tears from the listener, and I have a real pet peeve about that, particularly with holiday tunes. “Christmas Shoes” from a few years ago felt very much that kind of song; unfortunately, “Christmas In Heaven” comes close to that line. Not saying it won’t resonate with some people (and like I said, it sounds good as a country tune), but for folks like me who don’t like having their emotions artificially manipulated, it will probably be annoying. Maybe that’s just me, but I question the wisdom in including it on the track list.
The other misstep: “The Christmas Song.” It takes some very clever arranging to take a Nat King Cole light-jazz classic and turn it into a country song, and this version doesn’t get there. McCreery just sounds fake on it.
Overall, however, the good far outweighs the bad on Christmas with Scotty McCreery. For the most part, it’s a pleasant offering destined to put country fans in the holiday mood, and a sign that our young budding country star is growing into those shoes quite well.