Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “White Christmas”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I look at one of the most popular and well known Christmas classics, “White Christmas.” The exact where and when it was written is disputed, but songwriter Irving Berlin upon composing it was quite confident in it’s quality, as he told his secretary that not only was it the best song he’s ever written, but the best song that anybody has ever written. So I guess quite confident is an understatement, eh? I wouldn’t put it as the best song ever written, but it’s certainly got a high spot on the list of greatest songs ever written. The melancholy mixed with hope in reminiscing in about Christmases of the past while having faith they come to fruition again makes for a song that’s instantly connectable for most listeners.

The first public performance of the song was on Christmas day 1941 by Bing Crosby on his radio show. What’s interesting is this song didn’t get the instant hit response Berlin expected. Crosby called it nothing special and when first released as part of the soundtrack for the movie Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” became the instant hit instead (raise your hand if you know this song, but now put it down because you’re a liar). Eventually it did catch on though, a little over a year later, a large part in due to the backdrop of WWII happening, giving listeners a strong emotional connection to it. The song spent three separate times atop the United States charts and went on to be the name for the excellent Bing Crosby-starring 1954 movie White Christmas. Crosby would go on to be forever connected to this song as much as the writer Berlin, even though he downplayed his role in the success saying anyone could have sang it.

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Bing Crosby

Obviously the Crosby version of this song gets a big cheer from me. Despite his humility towards the success of this song, he is a big part of what made this song so big because it fits him perfectly. The reverence and respect in his voice as he delivers the performance of this song brings the words of Berlin to life. Now I can’t say it’s my favorite because well I admit this is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time and there are several performances of this song I really enjoy. But Crosby should always be the starting point for this song.

This R&B/doo-wop group completely re-vamped this classic song and manage to make a unique version that in my opinion strongly challenges Crosby’s version (as of this writing it actually has over twice as many views as Crosby’s version). The mix of different range of voices and doo-wopping make for a decidedly more upbeat version of the song, yet it still feels quite respectful. The falsetto in the middle of the song is fantastic. Thank you Home Alone for letting me know this version of the song exists.

So here’s one that might shock you to see it’s inclusion on this side of the list. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: CeeLo’s Magic Moment is one of the best Christmas albums released in the past decade. It’s a great listen and his version of “White Christmas” makes the bold choice of adding horns, quite the contrast from Crosby. But it actually works as a swelling Christmas anthem that crescendos in the bridge quite well. I imagine this might be a divisive pick, but I stand by it.

You can never go wrong with Otis Redding! And this take on “White Christmas” is no different. If you want all the soul in your songs, listen to this one right now (and the Soul Christmas album).

Behind Bing Crosby, Andy Williams has the next best traditional take on this Yuletide staple. It’s hazy, dream-like feeling definitely puts you in mind of waltzing through a snow-covered woods, making for a great Christmas performance.

Bah Humbug!

My biggest issue with ‘Ol Blue Eyes performance of this song is it’s wait too serious. Sinatra’s voice sounds too solemn and quiet. Also his change from children to kiddies in the lyrics is annoying and unnecessary. The chorus in the bridge is weak too. This was a big miss from Sinatra.

Irving Berlin hated Elvis and did everything he could to get Elvis’ Christmas Album canceled because he found his interpretations of Christmas songs, particularly his own song “White Christmas,” to be disrespectful. While I generally enjoy Elvis’ Christmas Album, I’m in agreement with Berlin when it comes to this song. This is just awful, with the “soulful” affectations of Elvis’ voice sounding quite plastic in comparison to the likes of The Drifters and Otis Redding.

So Michael Bublé makes the bold choice of doing his version of the song in the same style as The Drifters. What a bad decision, as Bublé does not have the soulful voice to pull this off (the only artist I’ve ever heard successfully pull of a Drifters-style take on this song is Aaron Neville). Then he doubles down on the bad decision making and turns it into a duet with Shania Twain, whose voice does not go with his at all. Also this is not a duet song. It’s like the musical version of watching someone slowly fall down the stairs.

Johnny Mathis looked at Sinatra’s version of the song and decided to make it even more serious and duller sounding. I did not think it was possible to take such a great song and make it the excitement equivalent of paint drying. But yet this isn’t the worst…

How to completely bastardize a song 101! The production is stripped down to the point where it sounds like Perry is singing from the bottom of a well, yet she also adds in the annoying Aguilera ad libs that never add anything meaningful to a song. Oh and her vocal performance sounds off key. Listen to this if you dare, but then make sure to wash it down with one of the great versions of this songs I recommend above.

This is the final edition of this feature in 2019 (it will return next year!), so thank you for reading this and all of the other posts on Country Perspective this year. I hope you all have a safe and great holidays!

P.S. I will be making my end of the year 2019 posts and looking ahead to 2020 posts in the next couple weeks.

The Hodgepodge: The Return of Garth Brooks Has Fallen Well Short of Expectations


When Garth Brooks announced he was returning to country music last year, many expected it to be one of the biggest stories of the year in music. After all Brooks is one of the highest selling artists of all-time and was the undisputed face of country music in the 90s. Expectations were set high and many thought he could be a voice of reason in a genre that has no leadership or direction. I was certainly one of those people too. As I said in my review of his comeback album last year, I considered Taylor Swift to be the only current artist in the same range of Brooks’ icon status. Here’s how I led off my review of Man Against Machine:

In the world of music there were two albums everyone was looking forward to listening to this year: Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine. Everyone looked forward to listening to Swift of course because she’s one of the top-selling and most popular artist in music today. To add to the hype she announced she left country music and that 1989 would be her first documented pop album. Regardless of the quality of the album, everyone knew it would have huge sales numbers. This proved to be true as it’s the only album of the year to be certified platinum. It gives you an idea of how bad music sales are right now and shows you why country music was devastated to lose her. Luckily for country music, Garth Brooks has made his triumphant comeback. Garth is the only other artist that can sell more albums than Swift in music right now. After all Garth is one of the most popular selling artists of all-time right alongside the Beatles and Elvis. Regardless of what I think or anyone else thinks of Man Against Machine, this album will be the second and only other album to be certified platinum in 2014.

Sometimes I’m right on with my predictions. This time I was wrong. Man Against Machine has achieved platinum status, but it took longer than anyone predicted and Taylor Swift outsold Garth by a lot. As of April 29, there have been 626,100 copies of Garth’s comeback album sold. Originally industry insiders predicted that 250,000-300,000 copies would be sold in the first week. Instead only 119,000 copies of the album were sold. Pretty disappointing numbers for an artist some hold in the same regard as Elvis and Michael Jackson. His sales are good compared to the average, as Man Against Machine was one of the top ten highest selling albums in country music in 2014. But that really isn’t saying much considering we’re talking about Garth Brooks and the current state of country music sales is in the dumps.

For the majority of 2014 radio struggled to find substance to put on the radio and many felt Garth could solve this problem. He was the king of country radio in the 90s after all. Instead Garth has been non-existent at country radio since his return. If you’re a country music fan, who for some reason only keeps up with the genre through radio you would have no idea Garth even returned. The first single, “People Loving People,” peaked at #19 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. The followup single, “Mom,” did even worse, as it peaked at #32 on the Airplay chart. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Brooks told the outlet that he doesn’t know when his next single is coming out. Garth says he is uncertain because of the shakeup in leadership at Sony Music Nashville, as now former CEO Gary Overton has left.

Nobody wants to say it, although many are thinking it. I have no problem saying it though: 2015 Garth Brooks is completely out of touch with the music industry. He may have been a brilliant marketer and entertainer in the 90s, but it’s a completely different game in 2015. There are so many things Garth has done wrong since his return I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with his singles. First off his reasoning for holding off on a third single because of a leadership shakeup at Sony Music Nashville is complete bullshit. Chris Young just released a new single and he’s on the same label as Garth. Miranda Lambert and Jake Owen are both set to release new singles within the next month. Garth doesn’t want to admit that he completely botched the first two single choices. Man Against Machine certainly wasn’t a great album, but it was solid and contained a few fine single choices to release to radio.

Garth blindly thought he could make “People Loving People” another “We Shall Be Free” and this blew up in his face. “People Loving People” is even more generic and bland than “We Shall Be Free.” “Mom” is even more milquetoast and vanilla. Everyone knew this single was dead on radio at arrival. It was maddening to see him choose these as singles, as they’re arguably the two worst songs on the album. I think the album’s title track, “Midnight Train” and “Cold Like That” would all be great single choices. The album’s title track could especially do well at radio with its working class theme and catchy rhythm. It’s also more rock than country sounding. This should easily be the third single choice, but instead he’ll probably choose the cheesy and cliché “All-American Kid,” which is way too country for the current radio environment to succeed.

As bad as his single choices have been and the poor radio performance to show for it, there’s something hurting him even more than his lack of radio presence. It’s his refusal to embrace streaming and YouTube. Every other artist out there releases their music to YouTube because it’s smart and how many people find music nowadays. Every other artist also has their music available on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon because once again it’s just the right thing to do. This how most people consume music nowadays. I bet 95% of my readers get their music through these outlets. As admirable as Garth’s crusade is to preserve the concept of albums and selling music in this way, it’s really hurting him. Singles are the new albums. Artists today focus on making great singles over great albums because it’s easier to pull off. Even though I buy the bulk of my music as an entire album, I know I’m in the minority.

Back to the YouTube subject, some artists get big mostly through this outlet. A non-country example is the a cappella group Pentatonix. Their brilliant covers of hit songs helped many people discover them. Another non-country example is hip-hop artist Lunchmoney Lewis, as his video for his hit single “Bills” has gotten over 10 million views as of this writing. Lewis was a complete unknown coming into 2015 and now he has a hit single, mostly thanks to YouTube. Garth is cutting off an entire outlet that could not only boost his single sales and radio airplay, but introduce him to a whole new generation of listeners. Many younger listeners have no idea who Garth Brooks is and really don’t care. Garth isn’t on YouTube or iTunes, so he’s completely off the radar in their minds. You can’t buy just his singles, so there’s another turnoff. Throw in the fact you can’t stream his music at all before listening and it perfectly explains why Brooks is in the situation he’s in. His GhostTune store is the Zune to Apple’s iPod.

Garth is trying to do things his own way in 2015 and it simply isn’t going to work his way. Most people are no longer driving to Walmart to buy a CD and instead purchasing their music online digitally. Digital is the name of the game. Garth said this himself in an interview with CMT. Why aren’t you following your own words, Garth? It’s pretty simple: ditch GhostTunes, join iTunes, make your music available for streaming, allow your music to be sold individually instead of as a whole album, and pick better singles. Brooks can still be a factor in 2015 and make the impact on country music we all envisioned he could. But he needs to make changes quickly. They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but Garth better if he wants to be relevant again.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Whitey Morgan is releasing his much-anticipated Sonic Ranch album to the public next Tuesday. I’ve had an early copy for months and I’ve been dying to review it here on the site. This is an album you do not want to miss out on, so stay tuned for my review on it next week.
  • Jon Pardi is releasing an EP next week titled The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These are songs I’m assuming didn’t make the cut for his debut album Write You A Song. We haven’t heard a new single from him for a while, so I’m guessing there will at least be one new single from this EP. We’ll definitely a review on this.
  • Kelsea Ballerini is releasing her debut album The First Time next Tuesday. Based on what I’ve heard and seen from Ballerini, I’m not that excited about it. She’s proven to be the female equivalent of Sam Hunt to this point with her brand of pop music being marketed as country music.
  • Mickey Guyton announced this week that she’s releasing a self-titled EP on May 26. Unlike Ballerini, I’m excited to hear new music from Guyton. In a perfect world her single “Better Than You Left Me” is on the cusp of the top ten instead of “Love Me Like You Mean It.” This one will definitely get reviewed.
  • Luke Bryan is releasing his new single from his new upcoming album next Tuesday. As everyone speculated, it’s called “Kick The Dust Up,” a Dallas Davidson co-written song. I can only imagine how bad this song is going to be.
  • Chris Young just released his new single “I’m Comin’ Over,” which is the first track of his new upcoming album set to be released this fall. You’ll see my review on it soon.
  • Toby Keith’s new album is coming out on June 26 and it’s titled 35 MPH Town. I wonder if he acts like a grumpy old Baby Boomer throughout it like the album’s title track?
  • Steven Tyler just released his first country song, “Love Is Your Name.” Believe it or not, it’s actually not terrible. We’ll have a review on it soon.
  • Kid Rock is releasing a single to country radio titled “First Kiss,” off of his new album. This is nothing new, as a few years ago “All Summer Long” was a big hit on country radio and Kid Rock knows how to make money. I’m curious to see how well this does on the Airplay chart.

Throwback Thursday Song

Alan Jackson – “Chattahoochee” – The warm weather is coming and summer is just around the corner, so I thought why not choose one my favorite summer country songs. Fun and traditional don’t have to be mutually exclusive, bro country artists. Plus there’s no other video where you can see Alan Jackson on water skis!

Non-Country Song of the Week

Adele – “Take It All” – After having a great conversation with Noah in the comments section of last week’s Hodgepodge about Adele and the impact she could have in country music, I went back and listened to her 21 album. It’s as good as I remembered and instead of pointing out one of her great singles, I instead chose to point out a great album cut, “Take It All.” The piano play is top-notch and Adele’s voice is just awesome.

Tweet of the Week

You want to know what else didn’t make me excited about Ballerini’s album? When this was brought to my attention. Kudos to Windmills for pointing this out.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Idiot #150

It’s another comment left under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. We’re now at the point that Hunt fans are using Brantley Gilbert quotes to defend him. Oy.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

What I Learned About Garth Brooks After Listening to His Ultimate Hits Album

Everyone has heard Garth Brooks music and vividly remembers his superstardom from the 90s. He then created the fake persona of Chris Gaines, got older and temporarily retired from country music. But he’s now back and his return album Man Against Machine is coming out on November 11. As a reviewer of country music it’s important for me to be familiar with artists’ past work when doing reviews on the site. With Garth Brooks that was a problem because I was one of the few who aren’t familiar with his past work. You see I was a very young child during Garth’s heyday and by the time I started to listen to country music he was starting the Chris Gaines project and fading from his superstardom. My parents also weren’t fans of his music, so when his music came on the radio station dial turned to another channel. And of course Garth’s music isn’t on iTunes, Google Play or any (legal) streaming services. After months of casually browsing the CD section at Walmart I finally came across one of his greatest hits albums, The Ultimate Hits released in 2007.

Before I even started listening to this album I was well aware of both Garth fans’ praises and Garth critics’ thoughts on his music. And after listening to the whole album I now understand where both sides are coming from with their thoughts. Garth fans love his charisma, showmanship and relatable songs. The last point was definitely something I noticed when listening to his music. Garth loves to sing music that relates to the common person, which is great and something artists today certainly should do more. At least Garth’s music paints a realistic view of everyday life and not drinking on a river bank on the back of a tailgate. Garth doesn’t have the best voice in the world, but he conveys enough emotion and charisma to make his voice standout. I can see why so many people love him.

Garth critics go after him because his music is too pop, the themes can be too cheesy and the overproduced instrumentation. Not to mention they hate his concert antics, like riding in on a zip line to the stage (but I’m not commenting on this today). I definitely heard the criticisms on his songs too. The biggest offender of these three criticisms is “Two Piña Coladas.” This song is okay with one listen, but after multiple listens it becomes quite annoying. It’s way overproduced and doesn’t sound country enough. The same can be said of “Friends in Low Places.” The cheesiness is in full effect with “We Shall Be Free.” This song does have a good message, but it panders so much to people that it makes me barf. Not to mention it’s very commercial sounding. There’s a reason this song is used in those 30 second PSAs, along with Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” Country music should never be PSA music.

There is a good side to Garth Brooks and there were several songs I did enjoy listening to on The Ultimate Hits. The moving and romantic song, “The Dance,” is a great song that sounds country. I love the use of the piano in this song and I wish more country artists would incorporate the piano into their songs, something I mention frequently on this site. The other standout I enjoyed of course is “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” arguably Garth’s best song ever. I think this is one song where most traditional country fans and Garth fans would agree is great. The song conveys great emotion and really paints a good picture in the listeners’ heads. I can say the same thing about “The Thunder Rolls.” Another song I enjoyed listening to is “Unanswered Prayers,” despite being a little cheesy. I think the song sits well for me because once again Garth’s ability to appeal to people’s emotions and their everyday life comes into play. His duet with George Jones on “Beer Run” was a fun listen too, as it’s always great to hear “The Possum” sing.

To me when it comes down to Garth Brooks, I believe he’s overrated and yet he doesn’t get enough credit either. He’s overrated in the sense that he isn’t one of the greatest artists of all-time next to the likes of Elvis and The Beatles, despite selling the third most albums all-time in the United States behind these two. Garth fans build him into something much bigger than he really is. At the same time I think traditional country fans are a little too harsh on Garth because he’s made more quality music than they’re willing to admit, even if some of that good music is pop country. Some have realized this after being hit over the head with bro country for the last couple of years.

Garth’s debut single from Man Against Machine, “People Loving People,” isn’t the best song in the world and it definitely feels like a rehash of “We Shall Be Free.” I can confidently say though that this probably isn’t an indication of the whole album. I think this new album will be similar to his past albums. There will be some good country songs, some bad pop country songs and then a few in-between. The million dollar question is what impact can Garth Brooks have in this current country music landscape? Can he pick up right where he left off or is he too old to run with today’s artists? That’ll be the interesting aspect to watch when his new album is released. All I know after listening to The Ultimate Hits is that Garth Brooks is polarizing with his music and it will always create a buzz among country music fans.

Album Review – Corb Lund’s “Counterfeit Blues”

Corb Lund is a throwback all the way through. From the style of his music to his overall personal look, he’s the picture of neo-traditional country music. The Canadian country artist is out with his new album Counterfeit Blues, which was recorded at Sun Records in Memphis. All-time greats such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were famous for recording their music at the famed studio back in the day. Lund and his band made this choice because they were going for as they say the whole sound. All the recordings were done with analog methods and this classic sound can be heard throughout the record.

The album starts off with “Counterfeiter Blues,” a song that deals with the genuineness of people, places and things in life. The classic country sound takes front and center in the song. This is followed by “Good Copenhagen,” which is a song about how “good Copenhagen is better than bad cocaine.” The guitar play in this song really stands out to me and gives the song a real bluesy feel. Lund and his band get upbeat and fun with “Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle.” When you hear this song it makes you want to get up and dance. It feels like an Elvis song meshing with a Cash song, which is just fantastic. It’s a little short though.

Counterfeit Blues keeps the upbeat, fun melody going with “Hair In My Eyes Like a Highland Steer.” It’s another song that makes you want to tap your feet and forget about your troubles. Lund slows it down with “Little Foothills Heaven,” a song about a little slice of heaven in the mountains that is an escape from everyday life. Lund really shows off his softer vocals for the first time on the album. “Five Dollar Bill” reminds me a lot of Sturgill Simpson’s “You Can Have the Crown.” Both songs relate to the artists personally and are about the struggles everyday life. They also approach these struggles with a sense of light-heartedness. You can feel the rockabilly influences in “Five Dollar Bill,” especially towards the end of the song when Lund sings the last few lyrics quite fast (kind of has a Stray Cats feel to it).

“Buckin’ Horse Rider” is about the rough and tough life of a horse rider. I can imagine Lund gained the inspiration for this song from his ranching days. It’s a little too slow for my taste, but the lyrics do a good job painting a picture of what the song is about. Lund sings about living in Alberta, Canada in “Hurtin’ Albertan.” I’m not familiar with Alberta, so I really can’t relate to the lyrics. But Lund once again does a good job painting a picture in my head of what Alberta is like with lines such as “too much old money, not enough booze/east of the Rockies, west of the rest.” “(Gonna) Shine Up My Boots” is a drinking/night out on the town type song (I think). This song really didn’t do much for me because I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be about.

“Truck Got Stuck” is a song about a bunch of trucks getting stuck. The song is like a funny story you would tell your buddies about. I think this is the first song about a truck in 2014 I’ve enjoyed. This is followed by “Roughest Neck Around,” which is about a tough son of a bitch who works on oil derricks. One thing I noticed in this song and in spots in other songs on the album is Lund’s voice sounds a bit distorted. I couldn’t understand what Lund was singing at times on “Roughest Neck Around.” Not sure if it’s a mic problem or the master sound is too low, but it kind of bugs me. The album closes out with my favorite song from the entire thing, “Truth Comes Out.” It’s a haunting song with metaphors peppered throughout the lyrics. It’s one of those songs that make you think and will mean something different to each person that listens. Great way to close the album.

One thing I should point out is these songs aren’t new. These are songs from Lund’s various albums over the past decade and have been simply re-recorded. While these songs are new to most American listeners, this is basically a greatest hits album to Canadian listeners. Nevertheless, I’m sure both appreciate the quality of this album. Counterfeit Blues is a solid album all the way through. In terms of the overall sound, I would describe it as neo-traditional country with Americana, rock and rockabilly influences.

Despite a few nitpicks, I recommend checking out this album. Corb Lund is an artist everyone should become familiar with because you can tell he really pays attention to all of the little details in his music. He’s a true artist who cares about his craft. If you’re looking for a classic sound from yesteryear, Counterfeit Blues is for you.

Grade: 8.5/10

To Purchase Corb Lund’s new album “Counterfeit Blues” click here.