A Wild-eyed Christmas Night
CMC International Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/18/2001
I am not a praying man in any sense of the word. However, when my review copy of 38 Special's A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night arrived at the Pierce Memoral Archives a few months ago, I fell to my knees and offered up this humble prayer: "Please, please, dear Lord... let this disc be better than Lynyrd Skynyrd's abyssmal Christmas disc."
While I'd hardly put this disc up on the shelf next to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, Don Barnes and crew do surprise the listener often on this disc with some spirited versions of holiday classics, and even turn in an interesting original or two.
Chances are, if you grew up listening to a specific version of a song, you'll cringe whenever any rock band tries to cover that song. In the case of 38 Special, it's probably a good thing that Bobby Helms is dead, 'cause the shock of hearing this poor cover of "Jingle Bell Rock" would kill him. But an even bigger shock is how well the band takes on versions of "Little Drummer Boy," "O Holy Night" (who woulda thunk it?), and the instrumental rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". While Barnes, Donnie Van Zant and crew put in enough of their own flavors on these particular covers, they do maintain a reverence towards the source material - and that makes all the difference.
The bigger challenge 38 Special may have faced, in truth, was throwing four original Christmas songs into the mix. Two of these, "Hallelujah, It's Christmas!" and "A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night" (the latter, thank God, not a re-write of "Wild-Eyed Southern Boys"), succeed in that they don't try to tap into any pre-existing vein of holiday music; instead, they maintain the respect they showed on many of the covers and adapt it to their original music.
Of the remaining originals, I admit I'm on the fence with "It's Christmas And I Miss You," co-written with Jim Peterik of Survivor - it's kind of hokey, but catchy in an annoying way. The last original, "That Old Rockin Chair," is a tribute to loved ones from Christmases past who have passed away. Maybe, had it been done by a different group or artist, they'd have captured the emotional side of it a little better; as it is, it's a tad too maudlin, and doesn't seem to fit the atmosphere of the rest of the disc.
I've purposely stayed away from commentary on "Here Comes Santa Claus" - mainly because I grew up on a version of this song from, arguably, the original Southern rocker, one Elvis Aaron Presley. Technically, it's not a bad cover, so I guess that's a hit on the dartboard in 38 Special's favor.
After Skynyrd's mangling of a holiday album (which 38 Special guested on), A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night could easily have been a train wreck waiting to happen. In reality, it's not a bad album in the least, though I'd hardly say it qualifies as a classic seasonal album.