Michael Martin Murphey and Riders in the Sky

Xmas Records

Michael Martin Murphey

Acoustic Christmas Carols (Westfest)

Riders in the Sky

Christmas the Cowboy Way (Rounder)

Here's a Christmas scenario: You have to travel back for Christmas with your parents and family, and you'd rather not hear the traditional versions of Christmas songs that have been circulating for the last 50 or so years (and have been bombarding you on the radio for two months straight). Your mission: find something different, yet safe to play around the home folk. Well, you can't really go wrong with either of these. Michael Martin Murphey's Acoustic Christmas Carols is precisely what the title claims: subdued acoustic versions of chestnuts like "Silent Night" and "What Child Is This," as well as some more obscure songs. Murphey's voice is as inoffensive as it is pure, and the acoustic guitar accompaniment is sparse and subtle, so much so as to barely register on one's consciousness when played at low volume. It's just the thing for background music, say, during Christmas dinner. The Riders in the Sky boys offer up a somewhat more lively mix, stirring up their usual blend of Django Reinhardt hot jazz, Sons of the Pioneers-style cowboy music and clean harmonies. "The Last Christmas Medley You'll Ever Need to Hear" is a clever pastiche, while a cover of the Louvin Brothers' "The Friendly Beasts" is gentle and reverent. I hereby defy you, though, to get all the way through the cutesy-wootsy "Sidemeat's Christmas Stew" without jumping for the "skip" button. You might want to put this one on after everyone's put down a drink or two. All in all, two releases to play around the whole crew without worrying about funny looks, then let 'em collect dust until next Yuletide.

(Michael Martin Murphey) **.5

(Riders in the Sky) *** 

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