Andy Griffith: The Christmas Guest, a review

Andy Griffith’s new Christmas CD pre-release arrived on my desk a few days ago. With Labor Day still a couple of days away and many deadlines to meet, I put the project on the back burner until closer to Christmas. My anticipation got the better of me, however, and I made some time to listen to it earlier today. To my surprise and delight, Christmas came early to the Darden house as this CD put me in the Christmas spirit almost immediately.
Track 1 captivated me with Andy’s moving retelling of the classic Christmas story, “The Christmas Guest.” The beautiful orchestration blends with Andy’s masterful story telling to present a very poignant message.
Track 2 is a joyful country/bluegrass version of “Joy to the World” and offers a needed uptempo counter balance to the first track.
Track 3 – “O Come O Come Emmanuel/What Child Is This?” This is a beautiful rendition of two holiday favorites, opening with a solemn, almost Gregorian chant sound combined with gorgeous instrumentation to create an intro that is both rich and deep. There is a very elegant harmony to the “Rejoice” chorus. The song segues into “What Child Is This?” Andy’s voice blends well with the background vocals and instruments to create a rich tapestry of sound. This may turn out to be my favorite Christmas song of the season; it will certainly be hard to top.
Track 4 – “Jesus Birth in Bethlehem, Luke 2” Griffith reads from Luke 2 and intersperses several Andy-esque comments. Everyone knows Griffith is a great story teller, and this sounds just like America’s favorite Sheriff, Andy Taylor, at home in Mayberry talking to his son, Opie, and making the Christmas story come to life. I have heard this scripture many, many times in my life, but this rendering is perhaps, the most delightful.
Track 5 – “Go Tell It on the Mountain” Another bluegrass/country/western flavored number, this one features Andy singing to a toe-tapping rhythm with an occasional harmony woven in. The second verse is presented in spoken word – story telling a la Andy.
Track 6 – “Away in A Manger/Golden Slumber” The simple orchestration of the first verse of “Away in A Manger” finds Andy singing with guitar accompaniment as more strings are added, blending in to provida a pleasing, mellow sound. This segues nicely into the lullaby “Golden Slumber” which showcases Andy’s deep, rich, mellow vocals.
Track 7 – “Beautiful Saviour” (“Fairest Lord Jesus”) Sharing Track 6’s mellow mood, “Beautiful Saviour” moves from Andy’s vocals on the first verse to a little harmony on the second, and it just keeps getting better. This is a lovely version of a lovely song.
Track 8 – “The Juggler” I had the pleasure of hearing Andy tell this story at a BMI reception this past January. It starts as an amusing, up-tempo tale of a happy itinerant juggler who seeks shelter in a monastery when the harsh winter comes. I won’t ruin the ending, but the story will touch anyone who loves “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Track 9 – “I Wonder As I Wander” This is another rich, elegant number for Andy. Whoever picked these songs, certainly picked ones that would showcase Andy’s voice. The orchestration is superb, blending flawlessly with Andy’s vocals with especially nice harmonies at the end.
Track 10 – “Lonesome Valley” Another toe tapper, this one features a bluegrass/country/western flair but with a negro spiritual thing going on that is quite interesting.
Track 11 – “Belleau Wood” Set in the Great War, Andy tells the story wartime of enemies joining together during a truce to sing “Silent Night.” The story ends very abruptly before the final track, which is:
Track 12 – “Silent Night” Again, a mellow, rich, deeply moving rendition of a beautiful carol that also frames Andy’s vocals. Add in the strings and the harmonies and you have another top-notch Christmas favorite. The song and project concludes with Andy’s final spoken benediction – a fitting ending to a stellar Christmas project.
While I enjoyed Griffith’s last two projects, they did not dazzle me. This one does. There is a nice mix of the traditional, the mellow, and the tow-tappers
interspersed with moving stories. The choice of songs, harmonies and instrumentation is masterfully crafted into a final product that presents not only some of the finest music Andy has made in the last ten years, but also some truly memorable holiday moments. My only complaint, and it is picky minutia, is that I would have preferred a more seamless segue between “Belleau Wood” and “Silent Night.”
A must-have for any fan of “The Andy Griffith Show” as well as anyone who loves great Christmas music and stories.
Buy The Christmas Guest!
The Christmas Guest
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