Personnel: Hadley Hockensmith, Richard Bennett , Tim Pierce (guitar); Eric Gorfain (violin); Don Markese (flute, ocarina); Patrick D'Arcy (Uilleann pipe); Darrell Leonard, Lester Lovitt (trumpet, flugelhorn); Stephanie O'Keefe (French horn); John Grab (trombone); Robbie Hioki (bass trombone); Nick Lane (euphonium); Jamie Muhoberac, Matt Rollings (keyboards); Joey Waronker (drums); Bruce Carver (bodhran).
Audio Mixer: Bob Clearmountain.
Recording information: Arch Angel Recording Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Henson Recording Studio (Studio D), Hollywood, CA.
Re-teaming with Don Was and Jacknife Lee, the pair who produced his 2014 album Melody Road, Neil Diamond cut Acoustic Christmas, his fourth holiday album and first since 2009's A Cherry Cherry Christmas. The title Acoustic Christmas suggests that this 2016 LP will be sparse, but it's hazy and open, consisting of much more than a man and a guitar. Usually he's supported by a full band -- a rhythm section, another guitarist, a keyboardist, and backing vocalists -- and that gives Acoustic Christmas some spunk, which is enough to keep things lively. If Diamond isn't always original -- his version of "Children Go Where I Send Thee" follows the contours of Nick Lowe's 2013 version exactly -- he nevertheless performs with gusto, particularly on the closing "Christmas Medley." That showmanship is ultimately what gives Acoustic Christmas its personality and is the reason to return to the record: it may not align with the spirit of the season, but it's charming nonetheless. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine