CHRISTMAS THE MOUNTAIN WAY
Filmed and recorded earlier this year at the Bell Theater in Pineville, Kentucky, Christmas the Mountain Way—a combo CD/DVD set—brings together a lineup of top-tier traditional bluegrass artists to celebrate the Yuletide season’s reason for being, namely the birth of the Christ child. Apart from Mike Scott’s jaunty instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” at the end of the set, and two new songs written for this occasion that reflect on memories of home and family life in the mountains at Christmas, the traditional numbers speak to the import of Christ’s arrival on earth. To this end you get Audio Blaylock’s uptempo version of “Joy To the World,” extolling “the wonders of His love”; Marty Raybon’s reverent reading of “Silent Night” (aided and abetted by Brandon Goodman’s sensitive fiddling) and Steve Gulley’s tender version of “Away In the Manager,” songs of hope arising directly from the birth night; and Dale Ann Bradley’s warm rendering of “In the Sweet By and By” (with an evocative assist from Vic Graves on dobro), anticipating the heavenly reunion with loved ones as the fulfillment of Jesus’s many promises of eternal life in return for being a believer.
Promotional video for Christmas The Mountain Way
Within these parameters, the artists deliver in a big way, from Mike Scott’s touching vocal on the rustic arrangement of “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” to Common Strings’ hard charging, fiddle-fired workout on “Nothing But the Blood,” to the children of the Cumberland River Academy’s charming, partly a cappella performance of “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” to Debbie Gulley’s affecting, keening conviction in finding a new way into “Amazing Grace,” to Mike and Brenda Scott’s winning, humbling sincerity in their version of “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” As for the new songs, Steve Gulley and Dale Ann Bradley become musical Norman Rockwells in offering rich memories of gathering with friends and family for a backwoods celebration of the Savior’s birth in “Christmas the Mountain Way,” whereas Cumberland River offers a beautifully detailed account of “Christmas in the Mountains” in a well-observed bluegrass ballad that embraces a love of the land and of kin alike.
Of course the DVD captures all the excitement and deep emotions these performers brought to their presentations. It can be played straight, as music performances only, or with artist commentary, and offers special features about the Cumberland River Academy and historical Bell Theater, as well as artist interviews. The vote here is to cue up the show with artist commentary. This is not voiceover that would distract from the music, but pre-song interviews with the artists in which they talk about their memories of Christmases past with family and friends, and the meaning it had in shaping their lives and, indeed, their faith. They all bring this back to how it relates to the songs they’re singing and makes for a richer experience with this seasonal fare. Nothing fancy about the video work, but it does have a nice rhythm in its mix of audience point of view shots, on-stage closeups of the musicians at work and medium shots of the entire stage. Chapter segments allow viewers to easily revisit their favorite moments. From conception to production to execution, it’s hard to imagine a better bluegrass Christmas experience than what’s offered in Christmas The Mountain Way. Mark it essential.