I sort of have this thing for bald, bearded, bespectacled folk musicians. Seriously, when you really think about it and start naming names… Michael Card, Jeff Taylor, Ron Block, Buddy Greene… you start to wonder if it’s the lack of hair, the beard, the glasses, or perhaps all of the above. (Of course there’s just an outside chance that it’s a coincidence.)
Oh yes, this was supposed to be an album review. Well, it’s like this: You might recall that Buddy Greene offered me his latest album for free, but it was already on the way for Christmas, so he let me have my pick of the others. My eyes lit upon his 1998 Christmas project Not Just Any Night. After salivating a little, I snapped it up and promised Buddy I would enjoy it.
But if you really need convincing, I’ll do my best to give you a few reasons in this review.
The Star On Top: In an album with about as many stars as the night sky, it was painful to pick just one. But upon contemplation, there was one track that did stand out: Buddy’s cover of his and Mark Lowry’s classic “Mary, Did You Know?” While the Gaither Vocal Band’s version takes a long time to build to a triumphant climax, Buddy’s version flows at a medium tempo and rises until it peaks at a whisper, with his gorgeous falsetto lingering on the line, “the praises of the Lamb…” It is the best version of the song I’ve ever heard.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Joy to the World” — This purely instrumental harmonica and piano duet is a joy to listen to. David Huntsinger, whose golden touch on the keys pervades the entire album, joins with the inimitable Buddy for a simple, yet infectious medley of the two classic carols.
“Glory to God in the Highest”: Don’t confuse this song with the quartet classic popularized by Signature Sound. This is a different, Buddy-penned song. As with much of this album, I’m going to say think Michael Card. This song is memorably crafted in every way. Lyrics and melody mesh perfectly. It’s sweet.
“Little Drummer Boy”: I first heard this arrangement when Buddy forgot the lyrics at that Homecoming concert. Unlike most arrangements of this carol, the drums really don’t take center stage. It is simply and sweetly carried by guitar, with some very light percussion providing the needed rhythmic under-current. An unexpected key change leads into a section where the lyrics are replaced with “la-la-las,” before going back to the original key and continuing with the song. The drums become just a little more prominent as the guitar, mandolin and accordion gently bring this low-key arrangement to a close. The final touch is a single, golden bell which rings out over the instruments several times as they fade out.
“Go Tell It On the Mountain”: Every now and then, Buddy indulges his inner black gospel singer. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but bespectacled folksy white brotha got a little soul in him! This take on “Go Tell It On the Mountain” really rocks, in the best possible way. All the classic instruments are there—the gospel piano, the B-3 Hammond, the smoky, bluesy guitar, and, of course, the harmonica. Buddy is backed up by Ashley Cleveland, who layered together several tracks of her rich, throaty voice to provide the essential backup singers (no black gospel tune is complete without backup singers).
We owed a debt only He could pay.
He died to show the servant’s way.
And we must die a little every day
As we live the servant way of Jesus.
Stale Cookies: NONE
Coal in the Bottom: NONE
This is the sort of album that won’t force itself intrusively into your Christmas celebration if you put it on in the background. But if you should have a moment to lend an ear, it will quietly and simply bless you. It is one of the best Christmas albums I have ever heard.