Ricky Van Shelton's snow-strewn album stands out this year as the best holiday release. Why? Well, first there's the Virginian's vocals. As usual, one of country's most under-appreciated vocalists turns in another killer country performance. Christmas or not.
Like the oft-covered title track. Shelton's comfortable way with Elvis' most well-known Yuletide tune nearly eclipses the King's. Elsewhere, familiar chestnuts like "Silver Bells" and "Winter Wonderland" roll like newly fallen snow from Shelton's resonant baritone. Again, comfortable. Of 10 songs, but one is new, "Country Christmas." An uptempo, traditional country crooner that celebrates the simple country pleasures of a country Christmas of a "fireplace burning bright" and grandmas making cookies and such. Warm.
Yet, Shelton leaves the best for last. His hair-raising "O Come All Ye Faithful" stands close by Bing's classic rendition. Now, Elvis is one thing. But Bing? Yep, Shelton's comes within a shard of mistletoe to matching Crosby's Christmas classic. His voice vaults from the disc, reverberates to the soul and warms the heck out of it. Now that's Christmas.