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Various Artists

Christmas Grass – 2002 (Audium)

Reviewed by Brian Wahlert

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"Christmas Grass" is the surprising early front-runner for best Christmas album of the year. Audium assembled some of the brightest bluegrass stars for 14 instrumental versions of traditional Christmas songs and the closer, "O Holy Night," with (surprise!) vocals.

"Winter Wonderland" is an upbeat romp with Scott Vestal (Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver) leading the way on banjo, and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" gives Ronnie McCoury (Del McCoury Band) on mandolin, Stuart Duncan (Nashville Bluegrass Band) on fiddle and Rob Ickes (Blue Highway) on dobro a chance to trade solos. Alison Krauss gives a heartfelt fiddle performance on "What Child Is This," and Joe Caverlee (Yankee Grey) stands out on fiddle on "Silver Bells" and "Sleigh Ride." And then, just when you've gotten used to a CD entirely without vocals, the Larkins turn in gorgeous two-part harmonies on "O Holy Night."

This album runs circles around some of the more mainstream Christmas albumsreleased this year - if you like bluegrass music or you're interested in a different take on familiar Christmas songs, try this.