More than two decades after it was recorded, “Pickin’ On Christmas” again makes a lovely holiday gift.
In 1998, Athens, Georgia, guitarists Davis Causey and Jay Smith found themselves with little money for presents, so they recorded an album of eight instrumentals for a limited run of 100 CDs, and gave them to friends and family.
Now the set is available on the Strolling Bones label, and it’s full of good cheer and interesting interplay.
With the help of overdubs, Causey and Smith trade licks and engage in creative counterpoint to generate plenty of winter warmth. The festive mash-up “Silver Bells/Silent Night” settles into a boogie rhythm pushed by drummer Jeff Reilly, and features what sounds like at least five guitars. Another innovative interpretation, “We Three Kings/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” combines funky syncopation with three guitars improvising simultaneously.
There’s plenty of variety. The one original tune, the serene “Following a Star,” includes a synth guitar part by Causey that sounds like a cello, while Randall Bramblett contributes a sprightly soprano sax part on “What Child Is This?” “Little Drummer Boy” mixes Causey’s resonator guitar and Smith’s classical guitar, and several cuts feature blue notes and other jazz colors.
Causey has become a model of longevity, his 60-year career highlighted by work with Kris Kristofferson, Marvin Gaye and Waylon Jennings, among many others. Smith died shortly after these tunes were recorded, which makes the album a poignant holiday celebration of musical kinship.
— Steven Wine