By Vernell Hackett

If you are like many people I know, you still have a few …well maybe a lot … of Christmas presents left to buy. If there are any music lovers on that list, here are a few gift suggestions for them.


“The Man In Song” is an excellent choice for any fan of Johnny Cash, or music historian. Author John Alexander has written the ultimate discography on Cash’s recordings, with each song placed in a category.

“I started writing about each song, and then the publisher suggested that I put the songs in categories,” Alexander says, explaining that the entire writing and editing was a two-year process. He has the entire collection of Cash recordings.

Alexander’s favorite chapter is the one on the songwriters that contributed to Cash’s recordings. “The great songwriters that influenced him — Guy Clark, Vince Mathews, Billy Joe Shaver – it was nice to be able to put in the book how much they meant to him. He wrote the majority of songs from his Sun catalog, and throughout his career he wrote, up until the very end.Jack Clement was a part of Johnny’s career from Sun to “Ring of Fire” to his Mercury recordings. They had so much respect for each other. Also when he believed in a new songwriter, like Kris Kristofferson and Larry Gatlin, Glen Shirley … he always believed they had it in them.”

“He was a childhood hero to me, and it was the songs that drew me to him,” Alexander continues. “I really listened to the lyrics. His life was a country song. I would run home from school and immerse myself in his songs, they were that important to me.”

As shown by this book, Cash had a great repertoire of songs, and Alexander says throughout his writing he learned even more that the man had an impeccable ability to find great songs. “You look at his body of work, there aren’t’ a lot of weak songs there. He didn’t record filler on an album. I think maybe “Chicken In Black” was one of the few songs he really didn’t think too much of. He just had this amazing ability to choose songs. He knew what was right for him.”


Irlene Mandrell has put together a book of miracles, many of them that happened within the Mandrell family. Co-written with Don Tomlinson with a forward by Brenda Lee, the book is a great insight into the family of talented sisters, and it a beautiful expression of what faith and belief are all about.

“I have seen so many miracles within my family and have been sold about so many other miracles that occurred in my family before I was born that I started keeping a journal,” Mandrell explains. “I have also added miracles that have happened to my friends and extended family.”

One of the more interesting stories in the book would be called coincidence by a non-believer, but not by the Mandrell family. On Christmas eve, 1948, Irby and Mary Mandrell were prepared to welcome their first daughter, Barbara. Things were going well and then suddenly they weren’t. The obstetrician told Irby that it was probable that neither his wife or unborn daughter would survive childbirth. Of course, Irby began praying while sitting in the waiting room, and suddenly he heard his name called out.

With disbelief, Irby looked up to see a pharmacist’s mate he had served with in the Navy standing before him. The man was a doctor now and when Irby told him what was going on, he said he said he would deliver the baby, and that Irby should assist. On Christmas morning, Irby was holding his first daughter and celebrating with his wife. There is no doubt that God sent them a miracle, and Christmastime has been even more special to the Mandrell family after that.


Charlie Daniels has a new book, “Let’s All Make The Day Count,” which is a series of wonderful reflections or meditations, if you will.His thoughts on these pages will give you new insight, will help you realize things are really pretty good, and help you understand the power of a positive attitude.

Daniels has tremendous faith, and he shares those thoughts of belief as well as words of wisdom and a little humor to help you get through the day or any rough spots in your life. The book is a result of his book publisher asking for a group of daily readings, and the singer, songwriter,entertainer and author provided him with 100.

“For years now, everyday I would put down a Bible verse and a saying that I feel like the Lord sends me every morning. I used those as the basis for the 100 different readings in the book. “It’s about my life, some personal experiences, mistakes I’ve made, attitudes – I talk about never going to be with somebody and sleeping with a grudge is like sleeping with a cactus –stuff like that and how you deal with it. The most healing thing in the world is forgiveness. It’s stuff that deals with emotions, situations and experiences that I surround with Bible verses and my sayings.”

It’s a great book and one that you will use day after day,and over and over again, as you find favorite passages that you can go to when you need uplifting in your life.

It’s Not Too Late To Get Tickets For One Of The Many Christmas Tours This Season

I love Christmas music, and I love to go to concerts during the holidays because that music is both old and new at the same time, as the different artists interpret the great Christmas carols and holiday music in their  .


One of my favorite Christmas tours is Michael Martin Murphey’s “Cowboy Christmas Ball,” a great evening of western and Christmas music that celebrates what is considered the first Cowboy Christmas Ball in Anson, Texas.

Michael Martin Murphey

The original ball was held in 1885 in the Star Hotel in Anson, with local residents and area cowboys encouraged to attend. Alas, the hotel burned down in 1890, but thanks to a New Yorker who fell in love with Anson, William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden, the tradition soon continued.

Chittenden moved to Anson shortly after his visit. In 1890 he wrote a poem, “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball,” and it was later included in John Lomax’s book, “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads,” published in 1910. The Christmas Ball in Anson was revived in 1934 and has continued ever since. It is now held annually in Pioneer Hall in the City.

Murphey helped keep the Ball alive and gave it even more recognition when he recorded the song in 1985. He began performing at the Ball in 1994 and has done so annually ever since. His Christmas tour is patterned after the Anson Cowboy’s Christmas Ball, and it is an absolute treat to attend one of these iconic performances.


The Oak Ridge Boys are in the midst of their “Shine The Light On Christmas” tour, which includes the Christmas classics and their wide repertoire of hits. They have a lot to pull from as they have released six Christmas albums throughout their career. This is the group’s 29th annual Christmas tour.

Oak Ridge Boys

“We sing hit songs for 40 minutes and after a short intermission our full production Christmas show takes over the stage with music celebrating every aspect of the holiday season, from Santa Claus to celebrating the birth of Jesus,” says group member Joe Bonsall. “Our production is all new and fresh this year and we are more excited than ever to be bringing this very special family event to your town!”

There is nothing better than hearing the four-part harmony of this wonderful group as Bonsall, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban and William Lee Golden go through their repertoire of Christmas classics and a few new ones they have introduced over the years. “New Kid In Town” is one of my favorite new ones they do, but I tell you, it is hard to choose a favorite as they move from song to song throughout the evening.


One of my very favorite Christmas albums is Trace Adkins’ “The King’s Gift,” released in 2013.  Adkins decided to go back and choose some old Christmas songs (“not holiday songs” he points out in his show) and add a Celtic sound to them. It was a magnificent idea!From the first note of “The Wexford  Carol” to “What Child Is This,” Adkins takes his audience on a journey of stories and music. He and a friend researched all the songs on this album, and the singer weaves the stories behind the songs throughout his Christmas concert. He does throw in a few songs that aren’t on the CD, but for the most part you hear the beauty of those songs onstage complete with bagpipes.

Trace Adkins

For those who don’t know, “The King’s Gift” morphed over the years into “The Carol Of The Drum” and then into “The Little Drummer Boy,”my very favorite Christmas song of all time. Trace does an excellent version of this song in his show, tracing the history from its writer, Katherine Kennicott Davis, who wrote the song in 1941, to the Harry Simeone Chorale’s recording in 1958.

You won’t go wrong if you get tickets to Adkins’ Christmas show, which is in residence at Opryland Hotel in Nashville for this Christmas season.


John Berry is in the midst of his 22nd annual “Christmas Songs & Stories” tour, a favorite among those who have been fortunate enough to attend in years past. No one ever forgets his version of “O Holy Night” once they hear it, I guarantee that. He fills the evening with Christmas songs and many of his most requested hits, stopping in between to relay to the audience tales of his childhood and his wonderful journey to where he is today.

Interestingly, Berry also has a show on The Heartland Network titled “Songs and Stories with John Berry,” which has fast become a fan favorite. The host venue is none other than Fontanel, Barbara Mandrell’s former home, just outside of Nashville.


Michael McDonald is combining a celebration of his new album, “Songs of Peace: The Christmas Collection,” with a Christmas tour this year. The album features many of the singer’s fan favorites as well as a new version of “Winter Wonderland” featuring special guest Jake Shimabukuro.

McDonald treats his fans to the wonderful sounds of “O Holy Night,” “White Christmas,” “Christmas On The Bayou” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee” throughout the concert of holiday favorites. That awesome voice lends itself so well to these Christmas classics, the audience is immediately entranced as the magical evening unfolds.

To find out if any of these artists, or other of your favorites who are doing Christmas tours, will be in your area, go to their individual websites and check out where you might be able to see them. Tickets to one of the many holiday concerts also make great Christmas gifts! You will not regret your decision to go and enjoy a wonderful night of music.