The best way to get into the holiday spirit is by listening to some classic Christmas songs, and I’m not talking about that schmaltz that’s piped in over loud speakers at some overcrowded, overheated and overstocked department store. This collection of Christmas songs is the perfect mood setter with classics such as “Deck the Hall”, “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World”. The honey-voiced crooner, Nat King Cole, remastered here for ultimate sonic smoothness, can make anyone feel that this really is the most wonderful time of the year.
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This Christmas CD by the Beach Boys offers up a delightful mix of holiday classics and holiday originals by Brian Wilson. This CD is the perfect gift for the awkward office exchange—maybe your cubicle buddy will stop playing the N*Sync Christmas CD and spin this collection instead. With holiday hits like “Little Saint Nick”, “Merry Christmas, Baby” and “Melekalikimaka”, you’ll be jammin’ through your winter vacation.
While their first Christmas album, 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year, was heavy on standards, Snow Angels relies on mostly original material. That turns out to be a strength, as multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler and vocalist Karin Bergquist bring the jazz-and-blues-tinged intimacy of 2007’s The Trumpet Child to these Christmas songs. Songs like “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” and “Snowed in With You” winningly recall the Christmas music of yesteryear, meant to evoke a cozy, snowed-in cabin or townhouse rather than a bustling mega-mall. Only on “White Horse” do Detweiler and Bergquist border on schmaltz. Otherwise, they’re up to the task, with Bergquist sounding like a modern-day Nancy Wilson or Billie Holiday. The pair of standards are given fresh, earthy takes, while “Goodbye Charles” is a fitting Schulz/Guaraldi tribute. Snow Angels exudes the peace and quiet that everyone longs for at Christmastime, and does so with class.
Taking an energetic if cynical approach to the holiday compilation, Yep Roc has assembled a collection of original “holiday-inspired” tunes from its stable of alt-country/indie rock artists. There’s only one carol, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” in a growled, dirty rendition by Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers. As for the rest—yeah, you could call it a holiday compilation for people who don’t like holiday music. From the funny, human response to loneliness at Christmas by Jason Brennan to the whiskey dreams of Minus 5, the emphasis is squarely on the outsider’s experience of the holiday season. “Lovely Christmas”, by Jason Ringenberg and Kristi Rose, doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Alternating between Rose’s peaceful acoustic phrasing, Ringenberg stresses out about credit cards and consumerism, eventually drowning out her innocence completely. The compilation manages, too, to accurately represent Yep Roc’s characteristic sound—richly rocking, often dirty, occasionally arresting. And despite all the cynicism, even Yep Roc can’t totally cut: Los Straightjackets’ “Holiday Twist” is indeed a lost Christmas classic, the kind of feel-good song that deserves to be accompanying Louis and Ella through department speakers.
Featuring 15 tracks gathered from three earlier volumes of the venerable Ultra Lounge series, this compilation presents a nice sampling of Christmas music that ranges from the kitschy to the classic. Unlike many of the other albums in the Ultra Lounge series, however, the Christmas Cocktails discs don’t just feature quirky, odd, and occasionally cringe-inducing musical oddities, but also include some wonderful old chestnuts, including a number of lesser known jazz classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s. For example, when’s the last time you heard “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Mambo” by Billy May? Other highlights include Dean Martin’s terminally cool version of “Winter Wonderland”, Kay Starr’s “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man With the Bag”, “Happy Holidays” by Peggy Lee, and “The Merriest” by June Christy. For kitsch, you can’t beat “Jing-A-Ling” by The Starlighters, the easy listening medley of “Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus’ Party” by Ferrante & Teicher with Les Baxter (unfortunately appearing without his “Band of Reknown”), or “Christmas Island” by Bob Atcher & the Dinning Sisters (though I prefer the laidback version of the latter by Leon Redbone). Finally, the album wraps up with a previously unreleased instrumental version of “My Favorite Things” by Martin Denny, substituting an accordion for the more traditional vocal melody. Forty minutes of Christmas coolness—definitely worth picking up.
// Notes from the Road
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