Various Artists

A Country Superstar Christmas, Vol. 4

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The Hip-O reissue label, now part of Universal, distinguishes itself from its competitors by its willingness to spend a little extra to license tracks from other record companies. The imprint launched a holiday series, A Country Superstar Christmas, in 1997 to surprising commercial success, mixing in-house performers with licensees and traditional seasonal material with originals. The series' second volume, like the first, hit both the pop and country charts in 1998. But while taking the same approach in 1999, Hip-O titled its holiday album All-Star Country Christmas, and it didn't do quite as well. Chastened, the label returned with A Country Superstar Christmas, Vol. 3 in 1999 and again placed in the pop and country charts, so here is A Country Superstar Christmas, Vol. 4, which like its predecessors features George Strait and Vince Gill (the only artists on all four volumes), Sammy Kershaw, who's been on three volumes, and Toby Keith and Steve Wariner, both making their second appearances. The rest of the artists are new to the series, and they include Travis Tritt and Dwight Yoakam with recordings licensed from Warner Bros. (All tracks are previously released.) There are perhaps a few too many mediocre originals in the mix (only three real standards out of 12), and the inclusion of Dolly Parton's performance of "Hard Candy Christmas" from the 1982 soundtrack to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a ringer -- despite the title, it's not really much of a Christmas song and, though it was claimed by Parton alone in the movie, it was written for several characters to sing in the Broadway musical and doesn't make much sense as a solo number. On the whole, then, this is not one of the stronger volumes in the series.

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