Album Review of
It's Christmas Time

Label: Mountain Home

Genres: Bluegrass, Holiday

Styles: Traditional Bluegrass, Christmas

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Written by Joe Ross
November 28, 2021 - 8:48pm EST
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Formed in 2007, Balsam Range is a North Carolina bluegrass band that takes its name from the hills on the southern edge of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The band includes Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar), Darren Nicholson (mandolin), Tim Surrett (bass) and Buddy Melton (fiddle). Long associated with the Mountain Home label, the group’s seventh album It’s Christmas Time is a delightful project with six songs, several arranged with the full string sound of the Nashville Recording Orchestra.

With its pensive reflections and lilting minor sound, “Christmas Lullaby” opens the short set with the band sweetly vocalizing wistful remembrances. Perhaps it would’ve been a better album closer. Regardless, bluegrass fans certainly won’t be disappointed when more spirited tracks like “Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” “I'm Going Home, It's Christmas Time” and “Jingle Bells” cue up. That is, of course, as long as you are open-minded to Sam Levine’s hip saxophone on the former. The title track, from the pen of Ralph Stanley, is a clear nod to tradition, while their instrumental rendition of “Jingle Bells” is a downhome classical offering with bluegrass pluck. Two Christmas carols (“The First Noel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”) demonstrate the band’s vocal prowess.      

A year after releasing this album, Balsam Range went on to win International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award, Buddy Melton won IBMA’s Male Vocalist of the Year and Tim Surrett won IBMA’s Bass Player of the Year. These honors, and others they’ve garnished over the years, show how respected this band is by their genre’s peers and industry representatives. While I wish this album was twice as long, it would make a great stocking stuffer. It’s Christmas Time has a very pleasant and tastefully presented repertoire to trim your tree with an eclectic mix of bluegrass, classical and country sounds. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)