Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Trace Adkins: The King's Gift - Review by Kirk

Trace Adkins: The King’s Gift.
Genre:  Christmas; Celtic Country fusion.
Release Date: 10/29/2013

Quick Spin.  A true jewel of an album, featuring Celtic-colored Christmas carols -- and that continent of a voice that is Trace McAdkins.  This will likely be my Advent Fave for the year 2013.  What a great surprise.

I will be honest.  I bought this for the cover, and the very idea of it all. 

Now that CD's appear to be going the way of the dinosaur you can sometimes find good deals in the dwindling Walmart audio section.   So there I am, flipping through the new releases when I see what appears to be a Celtic-based Christmas album with all that braided tapestry stuff -- that, and back cover with the big long haired dude looking like a member of the cavalry.

I was pretty sure I knew the name Trace Adkins, but really I didn't know any of his music, nor could I have described his voice.   My country ear is pretty much limited to the likes of Johnny Cash and  Allison Krauss -- though, in the last years I have purchased music by Merle Haggard and Billy Joe Shaver.  Suffice it to say, I just don’t do much main-street Nashville. 
My mistake.

Turns out I have may have missed more than my folkster-ears have bargained for.

As I said, I was drawn by the design and even the song selection.   My Celtic music collection runs a little deeper than my country, and I can truthfully say I have at least a dozen Celtic-colored Christmas CDs.  So I was intrigued by the idea of cowboys and penny whistles.

And the verdict is…

Thoroughly delighted, utterly pleased, fan of a “new” singer… and brimming with Christmas Joy.

First.  I do not know anything about Trace or his spiritual proclivities.   But I do know, that as an album that would celebrate the birth of the King -- This album rings true.   A lot of folks sing religiously themed music during Christmas time and this could be just that.  But I kind of doubt it.  The title, the focus, the opening words, and the audio conviction that runs through this album firmly suggest that this is an act of worship.

Then there is that voice.  Forgive me Trace (should you read this review) for simply never having heard your voice.   Should anyone else be unfamiliar think….kitten paws and Thunder, or Caverns and Cathedrals.  This a mighty voice, but utterly tender.   In a day when the airwaves are populated by thin voiced adolescents scrubbed clean with auto-tune, it's almost startling to hear a deep, unpolished baritone. And it’s not like he is just lowering his voice to sing low…    Trace comes off totally un-strained when rocking those low decibels.   In fact, there is one time where Trace almost sounds like one of those huge aboriginal pipes called the didgeridoo.  (Often used in Celtic fair.)  Add to that, muscled… low guitar, and the whole things just radiates gentle machismo. Like a Mountain.

Add to that voice, the talents of the Chieftains, multiple skilled instrumentalists, a trove of real Celtic instruments… and the voice of angel vocalist Alyth McCormack (recorded in Ireland) and you have a simply magical brew.   This is one talent-packed ensemble.

As for the twining of Celtic and Western vibe: A marriage made in heaven.

Jazz, as I understand it is the child of European classical and African tribal music.   Two strands, once joined, create this whole new dynamic in music.  While I hardly expect to see a whole *new genre spring out of the fusion of American Country and Irish Country, this marriage is powerful, and living.   It makes perfect sense.  This fusion just feels right. No gimmick.  Perfectly realized. And both genres like the fiddle!

* Ps.  In one sense we already do have such a genre. The mountain music of Appalachia and the Ozarks IS a true child of Ireland and the New World… but this sound reaches just a little farther west. 

Should I have any quibble with this offering, it might be this:  A few of the tunes just played it safe.   It is almost as if, having pressed some boundaries and not wanting to push the existing fan base too far, Trace settled for tradition rather than upset.    Makes good sense to me…  It’s just I was wishing for a little more adventure in a few of the tunes.  (*** See addendum)

Trace, should you ever read this review, may I recommend the Christmas album by Canadian Bruce Cockburn.  He pretty much pushes multiple boundaries, and his violinist does some things that just astonish my ear, but which may alienate a more traditional audience.)   That said, I could not ask for any more from an artist with a well established sound.   At least one review I read on Amazon faulted this work for NOT sounding like the Trace they knew. (Dear Ed, get your ears checked., this disk in not Horrible, it is downright honoring, festive, and utterly refreshing!)   Thank you Trace for your willingness to push into this new territory.    You have gained a new fan….And I will be spreading the joy.

*** Trace, I kinda wanna rescind the playing-it-too-safe comment.  I listened to the CD at home again this weekend, and it just fit -- with family, with activity etc.  Should you have upped the kind artsy-fartsy dissonance my ears sometimes crave,  you might also have ended up with a product that wouldn't play as well in a community setting -- This is a novel offering, AND it plays well with others... 

Note:  Unless he changes his website, you can listen to the tracks at the bottom of his Christmas Tour Page.
(Ps.  Trace, you have the wrong song in the Three Kings slot;)

For those who would sample a single Tune, may I recommend "Three Ships."  Then chase that with Three Kings  (Man I love that last note!)


In closing: This album just leaves me warm in the soul.  Satisfied.   Even glowing.

This is more than a gift of sound or even talent.    It is pure recognition.  God gives us many gifts and the ultimate gift in his Son.   We in turn give gifts… or use even use his gifts, because we have been gifted.  By the King.

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