Kathy Mattea

Joy for Christmas Day

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The two-time Grammy winner checks in with her first Christmas disc in ten years, drawing from all the unique traditions that have enhanced her career as a decorated country artist -- including folk, bluegrass, and Celtic. The key to a strong holiday CD is finding clever new arrangements of the classics and offering originals that present the spirit in a unique way. Mattea does both, opening with an Irish folk-styled "Christmas Collage" featuring marching drums, bells, and a small choral group. The Celtic flavors tag along throughout, informing both her vocal approach and instrumentation (pennywhistle, mandolin) on a jubilant, Handel-inspired "Unto Us a Child Is Born" and the more subtle and wistful "Straw Against the Chill." "Baby King" blends steel guitar and a country gospel choir behind Mattea's most powerful delivery, and the similarly organic country flavors make the clap-along "When the Baby Grew Up" a wildly irresistible back-porch burner. Mattea is also aces on more traditionally arranged pieces like "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," which she performs with only a gentle guitar accompaniment. Definitely one of 2003's best holiday treats.

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