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On The String: The McCrary Sisters End The Decade With Songs Of The Season

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Gina Binkley
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Deborah, Regina, Ann and Alfreda McCrary have released their first ever, gospel-powered Christmas album.

The McCrary Sisters are so deeply woven into the fabric of Music City, and music fans get to hear them so often in so many settings, that we need to take time every now and then to remember how much we appreciate them, their talent and their loving aura. And what better time than the holidays, especially when the sisters have released their first ever Christmas album?

A Very McCrary Christmas, a wide-ranging but essentially funky collection that includes a dozen classics and an original song by Regina McCrary, came out this season on Rounder Records. Produced by Grammy-winning blues and soul producer Scott Billington, the team called in guests that included Keb' Mo', Alison Krauss and the magisterial Shirley Caesar on a track ("Joyful, Joyful") that could revive the dead. With its nods to several gospel and pop styles, the long-awaited project became a nice jumping off point for a conversation with all four ladies - Regina, Ann, Alfreda and Deborah - about their lives in music.

They grew up in Nashville steeped in music as the daughters of the Rev. Sam McCrary, a long-term and central member of the legendary Fairfield Four. Besides singing and preaching, Rev. Sam was a leader in the gospel music, promoting concerts, hosting touring artists and generally facilitating a large network of top-tier talent. There could have been no better environment to learn to sing. The McCrarys took a variety of pathways through music. Regina toured with Bob Dylan early in her career, and she talks about that. Ann has been a background and foreground singer. Freda went into musical ministry with her husband. And Deborah took up a career in nursing, with singing on the side. They've been in all kinds of studio and stage situations since the 70s and even had a family singing group years ago called the CBS Singers, standing for cousins, brothers and sisters.

But after they began working with artist and producer Buddy Miller in the 2000s, the sisters found themselves singing together more than they had in years, and audiences began asking whether they had albums and whether they did tour dates as a group? So they made it happen, releasing Our Journey in 2010 and launching their formal quartet. They front an always righteous rhythm section that lets them tap all of the styles they've cherished over the years of eclectic work, but the gospel harmonies they learned growing up at St. Mark's Baptist Church in Germantown are always there at the heart of it all.

Enjoy this final episode of The String for 2019 and we'll see you in the new year.

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