Let It Be Christmas finds country music’s biggest star crooning atop arrangements that recall the sweet and swinging big-band styles of the ’40s. That’s not as unexpected a move as it might seem, even for a singer whose identity is so deeply rooted in twang as Jackson’s. After all, even in homes where Buck and Garth are played all year, December’s arrival means it’s also time for some Crosby and Nat King Cole, those paragons of Christmases past for half a century. In fact, Jackson’s mother, who had gently complained over the years that her son’s first Yuletide album, in 1993, hadn’t sounded Christmassy enough, was the inspiration for the new disc.
Jackson tackles the demanding melodies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century carols such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night,” and he fares better than most. He sounds more at home, however, on numbers that fit under the wide rubric of twentieth-century pop: a dreamy-eyed “Christmas Song,” for instance, and a “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” that sounds like Frank Sinatra fronting the Texas Playboys.
Yet it’s the one new song that stands out. A Jackson original, the title track proclaims, over gauzy strings and glockenspiel and acoustic picking: Let it be Christmas everywhere … Let anger and fear and hate disappear/Let there be love. Clearly, it’s kind of a sequel to Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)?” and that smash’s unabashed embrace of love as a concrete human solution to concrete human problems. A timely prayer for hope and joy and peace, Alan Jackson’s “Let It Be Christmas” might just be the first great Christmas song of the 21st century.