December 2005

Robin & Linda Williams - The First Christmas Gift
Red House Records: RHR CD 188
Released: 2005

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Robin and Linda Williams wrote four of the 12 songs on this engaging Christmas album. Three of the other cuts are traditional Christmas fare; the remaining four are by other contemporary songwriters. One thing I especially like is how this disc puts the acoustic-folk tradition to work celebrating and commenting on Christmas without nodding significantly to sentimental conventions. There is no angel chorus, no symphonic rapture.

"The First Christmas Gift," the title tune and opener -- suggesting a Christmas Day starting with kids discovering packages under the tree -- conveys the humbling message that Jesus himself was God’s original Christmas gift to humanity.

"As we rush through crowded days on hurried shopping trips
As we credit card our way down our Yuletide lists
Let openhearted offerings celebrate the King of Kings
The Fount of Love sent from above
The First Christmas Gift."

"Shotgun Shells on a Christmas Tree," the traditional "Mary Had a Baby," and Casey Van Beech’s "Baby Wanna Be By You" are heard in peppy bluegrass arrangements that might get Uncle John and Aunt Mary knocking over the tree with their spontaneous square dancing. The softer tunes, including the original "On a Quiet Christmas Morn," the traditional "A Virgin Most Pure," and Steve Earle’s "Nothing But a Child," are sung gently, but with verve. The traditional "Rise Up Shepherds and Follow" makes a fine concluding track, reiterating the disc’s pervading message of humility and awe.

Care is taken to give the pervasive acoustic guitar a sparkling quality and to push the fiddle forward. The Williams' vocals, often in harmony, are always on top, clearly audible, and well blended. The Crystalphonic studio engineers, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, achieve a robust acoustic sound without taking away from the music.