On the 3rd Day of Christmas… “Jackson 5 Christmas Album” (review)

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Contrary to popular opinion, “Thriller” isn’t Michael Jackson’s only holiday-themed musical treat. In 1970, The Jackson 5 dropped Jackson 5 Christmas Album. As the album showcases Jackson and company’s early work, there isn’t any moonwalking, crotchgrabbing, or ironically, high-pitched screaming. One would naturally assume that the younger MJ would exhibit higher pitches than adult MJ. Clearly, one assumed wrong.

Running down the tracklist, it’s evident that the Jacksons opted for well-known pieces. Beloved Christmas anthem “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sets the mood with a soul-infused interpretation of the holiday classic. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” follows quickly, boosting the tempo, and featuring little Michael. He pretty much steals the show with energetic delivery and impressive vocal range. He jazzes up the track with “oh yeahs” in between lines. The album fluctuates between the soulful and upbeat tracks. While the songs found on Jackson 5 Christmas Album are tried and true, the Motown twist recreates the familiar seasonal sounds.

Additionally, the Jackson brothers bring their unique style to the caroling session. “Up On The House Top” offers the perfect example of the distinct flavor they craft. Michael gives a rundown of the boys’ Christmas wishes. Each of their gift choices are different. There’s a hilarious dialogue in the middle between Jermaine and Michael where they discuss the scroll of girls Jermaine wants to smooch. I imagine that at the time many young female fans reciprocated this sentiment. It’s this joviality and general sense of camaraderie that makes the album so enjoyable. “Frosty The Snowman” provides opportunities for most of the boys to sing, which paints an image of the brothers sitting around the living room passing the mic around. There’s even a track aimed at cheering Jermaine up after he breaks up with his current woman. “Christmas Won’t Be The Same This Year” opens with a snippet explaining Jermaine’s blue Christmas. Presumably he didn’t actually split with his girlfriend, but it makes the familial ties tangible.

The seemingly improvised intricacies further set Jackson 5 Christmas Album apart from its peers. At the end of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” the boys break into a joyful chant of “The Jackson 5 wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, and a groovy New Year.” Try finding a song where Johnny Mathis proclaims “Johnny Mathis wants to wish you a Merry Christmas and snazzy New Year.” The Jacksons sneak a few lines of “Jingle Bells” into “The Christmas Song,” which I hadn’t heard before. Excellent work Jackson boys. Radio stations love Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas,” but honestly I think the Jackson 5 iteration is better. The lyrics, envisioning a Christmas day free of earthly flaws feels rejuvenated through the Jacksons’ positive vibe. The true standout on the album, though each track is simply incredible, is “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Michael Jackson performs the song as a naïve, innocent child tattling to his older brothers. He even exclaims, “Wow! I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus!” Later, he proudly states, “I really did see Mommy kissing Santa Claus, and I’m gonna tell my daddy.” You can’t help but chortle.

What with the natural dialogue between the Jackson boys, the Motown holiday jingles, and the chance to hear a young MJ belting out seasonal tunes, this should be an annual staple. The Jackson 5 jazz up traditional tracks, and let’s be honest. We’ve all heard about a bajillion versions of “The Christmas Song,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Luckily, the Jackson boys created a jolly Christmas album sure to lift your holiday spirits. Your Christmas spirit is high you say? Family gatherings. Ha. Now go put on Jackson 5 Christmas Album and pour a strong eggnog.

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On the 6th Day of Christmas… “This Christmas I Spend with You” — Robert Goulet (album review)

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If you enjoyed Richard Cheese’s Silent Nightclub, you may appreciate Robert Goulet’s This Christmas I Spend with You. Before rushing to the nearest record store though, understand that Goulet opts for a serious lounge-style holiday album. While it’s possible you’ve never heard Goulet’s music, likely you remember him for the goofy boss from “Beetlejuice.” Yeah, the boss dude with a commendable moustache.

This Christmas I Spend with You serves a head-bobbing, finger-drumming dose of Christmas tunes. Robert Goulet epitomizes the slightly silly Vegas music that Cheese parodies. He half-sings, half-speaks the lyrics in what seems to be a feigned boom of a voice. Kind of like middle school boys lowering their vocal tones to impress their female counterparts. That being said, Goulet pulls off the album tremendously. Titular track “This Christmas I Spend with You,” highlights Goulet’s unique bass-tone. Listening, you can picture him swaying back and forth drink in hand, basking in the spotlight. He even chuckles to himself while singing which further reinforces the notion that you’re watching a lounge singer live.

Aside from the opening track, “This Christmas I Spend with You,” the rest of the fare consists of tried and true holiday tunes. However, Goulet adds his classy twist to the mix. He provides earnest Christmas lounge music. Most of the songs feature significant pauses at the beginning of the track. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” continues for 14 seconds before Goulet initiates the serenading. Spicing up “Silver Bells” is a short intro which feels ripped from the script of a Bing Crosby musical. Therefore it’s no surprise Goulet stared in a production Camelot.

This Christmas I Spend with You really exhibits Goulet’s true singing prowess. The man can carry a tune and hold a note for a remarkably long time. With Goulet’s overpowering vocals, the instrumental backing is understated. It’s quite well arranged, and listening on a good stereo really shows the array of instruments. The strings, keys, percussion, and horns are exquisitely balanced. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” features a comically ill-timed horn though. Aside from the tuba toot, production is top notch.

The true standout tracks are the more emotive tunes, such as “Panis Angelicus” and “Ave Maria.” Though the lighter songs are pleasant, Robert Goulet’s bass tones feel more comfortable belting out serious, moving tracks. His bubbly Christmas favorites feel unintentionally comical. The latter half of the album, particularly “White Christmas,” “O Holy Night,” “Ave Maria,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” find Goulet in a calm groove. Just like Shakespearean actors who appear out of place in kitschy roles, Robert Goulet thrives in a traditional setting. If you enjoy Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and the likes, definitely spend Christmas with Goulet. Be warned however that spontaneous moustache growths and uncontrollable bouts of baritone may result.

On the 11th Day of Christmas… “Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas” (Review)

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Since a young age, Aaron Neville has graced the stereo during the holidays like a pleasant dusting of snow. The New Orleans musician’s album, Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas lives up to its title with a spiced up creole and soul-infused disc. Before you know it, you’ll be grasping the nearest faux Christmas tree as a mic stand and silently mimicking Neville’s booming bellows. Seriously, you can’t help but get into Aaron Neville’s animated holiday CD.

Featuring mainly traditional Christmas tunes, Neville offers a smattering of more serious songs. Appropriately, his delivery is straightforward though certainly not dry. The first track, “Please Come Home for Christmas” sets the mood for the rest of the album. Neville’s warbling vocals, complete with a Cajun hint compliment the smorgasbord of jazzy instrumentation. Had Neville added a subtitle to the album, it would read “Traditional Christmas Tunes in a Non-Traditional Style.”

While the entire album serves up a relaxing holiday audio experience, the tracks where Neville asserts his dominant New Orleans groove are truly terrific. In addition to “Please Come Home for Christmas,” the version of “The Christmas Song” found on this album might be the best rendition to date. “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” similarly provides an inevitable toe-tapping experience. Be forewarned, you may even begin snapping in tune (or if you’re me, out of tune) with the snazzy hi-hats.

By far the two stand out tracks are “Such a Night” and “Louisiana Christmas Day.” “Such a Night,” builds to a powerful crescendo and ultimately concludes with a spoken word piece. Neville really busts out on “Louisiana Christmas Day” with a thick Cajun drawl and references to the bayou. That being said, the other 9 tracks aren’t far behind these two.

Overall, Aaron Neville provides a melodic, and creole-inspired take on beloved Christmas tunes. If snazzy music is your cup of gingerbread latte, make Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas a new part of your holiday tradition.