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Happy Holidays from all of us here at Hybrid Magazine! To help celebrate the 2007 holiday season, a few of us here at Hybrid have picked a few of what we believe to be the best Holiday records released this year. Grab a cup of egg nog, or just nog, and kick back by a jolly fire while reading about the records you should probably go out and buy for your festive get togethers, or simply to enjoy with your loved ones this season.

Mindy Smith
My Holiday
Vanguard Records
www.mindysmith.net

When I first heard "Come To Jesus" three or so years ago, I was floored by the depth and spirit in Smith's voice. I am still impressed with the range and power in her voice, and on this collection of mostly reworks of traditional holiday fare Mindy shows off her true abilities. While some of the tunes here are basic covers in the spirit of the time-honored versions, Smith breaks from tradition on a few, notably the rocking "I'll Be Home For Christmas" where she sounds more like an angsty Aimee Mann than a bluegrassy hollerer. The originals on My Holiday are wonderful, a few written by Chely Wright, including the jazzy "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)" or co-written by Wright, such as the simply amazing "Follow The Shepherd Home", which is the true shining light on this release. "Follow The Shepherd Home" transcends the holiday season, making for a song that eschews the modern country sound Smith championed on her last release, and falls back on her true calling of singing lilting bluegrass tunes. The song is acoustic and soft, a perfect platform for her angelic voice to really shine through, with a melody that simply breathes beauty and life. A few Nashville friends join in for thet record, including some guitar work by the indomitable Kenny Vaughan and Will Kimbrough, as well as guest vocals on "Away In A Manger" by Alison Krauss and a hearty duet with Thad Cockrell on "I Know The Reason". -Embo Blake

3 Fox Drive/Various Artists
Christmas Grass Vol. 3
Koch Records
www.kochrecords.com

When I reviewed 3 Fox Drive's debut record for Hybrid a while ago, I was excited by the promise that this young bluegrass band showed - in my opinion looking to follow in the footsteps of Alison Krauss And Union Station. On the latest installment of Christmas Grass, 3 Fox Drive is joined by a few bluegrass luminaries to celebrate a host of traditional Christmas songs in true bluegrass fashion. The tunes are filled with mandolin, fiddle, banjo, dobro, and guitar, just like real bluegrass should be. John Cowan joins in for a bluesy "Please Come Home For Christmas" and the incredible Larry Sparks adds his voice to a softly elegiac version of "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day". The album ends with the one original composition co-written by Kim Fox called "Watching Over The Soldiers At Christmas" on which the band is joined by Charlie Daniels. It's a wonderful song, filled with the sentiments that really create magic at this time of year and remind us all of the simple truths of the things for which we should be truly thankful. The highlight of the record for me comes on "O Holy Night", which is softly done, dynamic and beautiful, promoting the peaceful feeling that is all too often missing from this hectic time of year.
-Embo Blake

Sister Hazel
Santa's Playlist
Rock Ridge Music
www.sisterhazel.com

Sister Hazel is still best known for their breakthrough hit "All For You"… but over the past decade the Gainesville, Florida band has continued to release records mostly independently and they've done a fine job of it. For proof, check out the awesome roots-rocker Bam! Vol. 1 released this past summer. You'll still be hooked. Just in time for the holidays the band has put together a nice collection of holiday songs, mostly traditional Christmas favorites, but a few originals as well, including the phenomenal rocking "It's A New Year (Just Get Along)". The band gets all bluesy on "Please Come Home For Christmas", invoking the spirit of Stevie Ray's guitar playing, and then turn in one of the most rock/blues-centric versions of "Little Drummer Boy" that would still be considered acceptable to purists. The band shows its many talents and musical facets well, from the acoustic guitars and strings of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to the throw-down funkiness of "Christmas Time Again" and the straightforward alterna-rock of "I'll Be Home For Christmas". Sister Hazel even throws in a fantastically fun hootenanny-style reading of "The Dreidel Song" before wrapping the album with a beautifully smooth and dynamic version of "O, Holy Night", complete with strings and background choir. If you have a little bit of rock in your holiday soul, then this is by far your best bet for new music this holiday season. -David DeVoe

Various Artists
Country Christmas
Capitol Records

Any collection like this is bound to be quite hit or miss for most people… Mixing classic country artists with the new school of "country" artists is not necessarily fair. Some of us long for the simpler times and purer sound of the classics without wanting to be blessed with the crossover pop of the new school… but I digress. This collection covers a lot of ground, from the smooth pseudo-pop of Kenny Rogers' "White Christmas" and Glen Campbell's "Pretty Paper" to the more recent "Carol Of The Bells" by Deana Carter and Amber Dotson's rockabilly tremolo-heavy "Blue Christmas". Alison Krauss sings a weirdly electronic song called "Shimmy Down The Chimney", which is beautiful and somewhat reminiscent of late 70's country… along the same vein as Ronnie Milsap's "Till The Season Comes 'Round Again". Steve Wariner sings a bright honky-tonk ditty called "Christmas In Your Arms" and Eddie Rabbitt's classic "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" has traces of rockabilly rhythm and bright chicken pickin' guitar. Classics like Tanya Tucker's "Christmas To Christmas" are welcome additions to the collection alongside The Oak Ridge Boys' amazing "I'll Be Home For Christmas". The collection is bookended by tracks from the cowboy's cowboy Chris Ledoux, starting off with a rocking version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and ending the record with this great storyteller's version of the classic "'Twas The Night Before Christmas". There is enough here for fans of Christmas songs and country artists new and old to make the perfect gift for a loved one, or simply for a great addition to your own holiday music collection. -Embo Blake

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