Classic country and more with Nell and Jim’s ‘Down Home Christmas’

Courtesy PhotoMusic for the season: Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally perform their pure Americana in holiday shows at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.

Like most musicians, Nell Robinson and Jim Nunally spend a lot of time on the road. Their partnership has taken them from concerts at the Kennedy Center to appearances on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and The City’s own Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival.

This month, though, the duo is spending Christmas down home.

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In “A Down Home Christmas with Nell and Jim,” opening today at the Aurora Theatre, the duo will give audiences a taste of the music they love best.

Presented in the Aurora’s intimate cabaret, Harry’s UpStage, the show includes country gems, Christmas favorites and original tunes from the pair’s new album, “House and Garden.”

“It’s like a little house concert — like sitting in a living room with friends,” Robinson says. “We’ve got some good stories to tell, and songs that people can sing along with.”

Robinson and Nunally, both based in the East Bay, have been working together for three years. He co-produced her first album and joined her band as a guitarist, and they quickly became a duo.

Together, their sound is pure Americana.

“It’s got a real richness and simplicity to it, because it’s guitar and two voices, with a lot of harmonies,” Robinson says. “The guitar is often like a third voice.”

Nunally, a veteran of tours with the Jayhawks and David Grisman, says the show takes him back to his own roots.
“In 1976, my parents and my four brothers bought me a Martin guitar for Christmas,” he recalls. “I still have that guitar, so this time of year has a special meaning for me.” The show includes music he played with his family — “from Buck Owens to Irving Berlin,” he says, as well as songs by Dolly Parton, Bill Monroe and others.

Robinson, who also performs as half of the yodeling duo The Henriettas, thinks audiences are hungry for the sweet harmonies and soulfulness of down-home music — be it country, folk or bluegrass.

“Americana captures it pretty well,” she says. “When I was growing up, it was just called country. For a while there, country got away from those rich roots. It became more of a pop-rock sound. I’m really glad people are coming back and connecting to that front-porch, sitting-around-with-friends kind of sound.”

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