Willie Nelson, “Hill Country Christmas” album (10/28/1997)

  1. el Nino
  2. Away in a Manger
  3. Joy to the World
  4. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem
  5. Here Comes Santa Clause (with Gene Autry)
  6. Pretty Paper
  7. Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  8. Silent Night
  9. Deck the Halls
  10. White Christmas
  11. el Nino (Instrumental)


Personnel: Willie Nelson (vocals, guitar); Bobbie Nelson (piano); Gene Autry (vocals); Jon Blondell (horns, bass); Freddy Fletcher (drums); Kimmie Rhodes (background vocals).

After parting company with Columbia Records in 1993, Willie Nelson released a wide variety of recordings on smaller independent labels. A STARDUST-like collection of standards, two gospel records, a commercial country album, a compilation of previously unreleased tracks, and this Christmas album are among the discs that emerged during this busy period.

HILL COUNTRY CHRISTMAS, like the two aforementioned gospel albums, features Willie and his pianist sister Bobbie. The arrangements are spare and the mood is informal, not surprising given that the album was recorded in Nelson’s home studio. Nelson composed a new song for the album, a simple and poignant religious song called “El Nino.” He also revisits an earlier composition, “Pretty Paper,” which was a hit for Roy Orbison in 1963.

HILL COUNTRY CHRISTMAS contains one certifiable curiosity, a version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” on which Nelson apparently overdubbed his harmony vocal to an old Gene Autry recording of the song. Elsewhere, such popular carols as “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” are performed in Nelson’s familiar, inimitable style.

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