In the English-speaking world, Christmas music falls into two main categories: European Christmas carols (which are essentially Christian folk songs) and 20th century Christmas pop (which is primarily an American phenomenon). "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bell Rock," and Mel Tormé's "The Christmas Song" are examples of 20th century Christmas pop standards -- some of those songs weren't written until after World War II, while European Christmas carols like "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman" and "The First Noel" are much older. It's important to note that American Christmas pop songs weren't necessarily written for religious purposes -- there is no mention of Santa Claus in the New Testament -- whereas European Yuletide carols were. Ignoring the Christmas pop standards of the 20th century, acoustic guitarist Michael Dowdle spotlights Europe's Christmas folk traditions on A Sacred Christmas. You won't hear "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on this CD; the songs that Dowdle embraces were written in Europe, and some of them go back to a time when the United States government had yet to be created. The familiar carols that Dowdle embraces -- which include "Silent Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "The First Noel" -- all have lyrics. But Dowdle doesn't perform the lyrics; A Sacred Christmas is a totally instrumental album of unaccompanied solo guitar. This pastoral, gentle CD, unlike Dowdle's more jazz-oriented work, pretty much falls into the folk category -- which is appropriate because most of the European songs that he chooses are basically folk songs with a Christian outlook (although German composer Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" is a classical piece that has often been used in Christian settings). This CD is easily recommended to anyone who is interesting in hearing an instrumental Christmas album that celebrates Europe's contributions to the holiday.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson