On the 9th Day of Christmas… “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (Review)

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A Charlie Brown Christmas” is one of the most celebrated films in the holiday movie canon. The jazzy, largely instrumental score composed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is equally as enjoyable, though severely underappreciated.

If you’ve seen any Peanuts animated video, Vince Guaraldi’s traditional loose jazz should be familiar. The soundtrack A Charlie Brown Christmas compiles recognizable holiday tunes and adapts them to piano-centric pieces. Furthermore, there’s almost no singing. One of the few vocal tracks is “Christmas Time is Here,” included in the intro to the animated film. As you may have guessed if you haven’t seen the movie, all tracks on the album appear in the Peanuts movie. “O Tannenbaum” kicks off the soundtrack, followed by a toe-tappingly catchy “What Child Is This.” A usually somber tune, Guaraldi breaks barriers with a unique rendition.

As expected, the Peanuts main theme, “Linus and Lucy,” is included on the soundtrack. My favorite track is “My Little Drum,” a spin-off of the Little Drummer Boy. The track features vocal “pa-rum-pum-pums” and “oohs” in time with the instrumentation. “Skating” is another personal favorite which, appropriately, seems to skitter across the speakers. Similarly, “Christmas Is Coming” may induce spontaneous cases of the Peanuts dance, so be careful when you push play.

While the album consists of 12 tracks, play time feels much shorter due to sparse lyrics. There isn’t a song you’ll want to skip. Guaraldi sets his album apart by providing Christmas tunes, many of which normally associate with a serious tone, in a lighter mood. Each track is upbeat, and refreshingly modern. Overall, Guaraldi masterfully crafts a finger-snapping album which serves as a lounge music twist on traditional holiday tunes. A Charlie Brown Christmas is at least as impressive and lovable as its film counterpart, and being mostly instrumental is the perfect album to liven up your Christmas party.

On the 10th Day of Christmas… “Silver Bells of Christmas” — Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (Review)

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A few years ago while ambling about the aisles of Big Lots I uncovered Silver Bells of Christmas in a bargain bin of CDs. Noticing the album was a Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney collaboration at the traditional Big Lots low price, I picked up a copy. If you’ve seen the classic holiday film “White Christmas,” you’ll realize this isn’t the first Crosby/Clooney tag team.

Upon first listen I was struck by the raw audio quality. As a vinyl fan, I actually appreciated the rough pops and hisses. Granted, my Roxio Easy LP to MP3 kit delivers much richer vinyl transfers, but then again Silver Bells of Christmas was a dollar. My second reaction was surprise. Although the cover art advertises “With Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney,” there’s only one song featuring the two musicians together. Interestingly, it is the title and opening track “Silver Bells.” Of the remaining nine songs, six are Bing solos leaving Rosemary only three.

What sets Silver Bells of Christmas apart from other Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney releases is the raw audio. Complete with the flaws of a rough transfer, this CD mimics an old-timey feel. As soon as you push play you’ll be transported in front of a wood-paneled gramophone. Sure, you might have other iterations of these songs, but the versions found on this release, particularly the initial song, are worth the price of the disc alone. Undoubtedly the greatest track is “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bing delivers a jazzy rendition complete with a slam-bam finish as the crooner would say. He truly goes to town, hollering: “whoa Rudolph, what a shiner/brightens up the whole darn sky/whoa Rudolph, looks like a miner, prancing across the sky.” Then he proceeds to drop a dose of scat, ending with “whoa diddy, abadoodeeda, abadoodoodadeedee (rough approximation).” After listening to this, it should come as no shock that ol’ Bing partook of the green stuff. And no, I’m not referring to Christmas trees…

From the Amazon store, it seems like you can cop this album at a Big Lots price online. Audiophiles might want to skip out, but if you aren’t bothered by the tinny quality, this is a great addition to the Christmas collection. You can’t go wrong with the B-sides of Bing and Rosemary. Heck, it’s worth the money just to hear Bing lackadaisically scatting his way through “Rudolph.” Maybe he should have voiced the Claymation snowman rather than Burl Ives…

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.

12 Days of Christmas (Albums)

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12 Days of Christmas, 12 Days of Christmas Music

That’s right, 12 days, 12 albums that are guaranteed to have you rockin’ around your Christmas tree. Or chugging spiked eggnog. Whatever your style, crank up the speakers, squeeze into the tackiest Christmas sweater buried in the recesses of your closet, and check out some holiday tunes.

A few weeks ago I found a stack of records tucked away in an old Rubbermaid container. Among them was the 1972 A Partridge Family Christmas Card, album. You may recall the kinda cheesy but lovable show about a musical family with a school bus for transportation. Well, apparently they lurched into the holiday spirit. How’s it sound? Pretty damn good, and I hate to admit it, especially to my Partridge Family-adoring mother.

As a family tradition, we’d always listen to this album, albeit on cassette tape, while decorating the tree. When I was a kid my favorite track was the unofficial 12th song, “My Christmas Card to You,” recorded on a higher BPM so as to lend the Partridge Family a Chipmunks quality. Looks like my dad held the same opinion of the Partridge Family that I did. I finally decided to offer the album an unbiased play through, and have to admit David Cassidy and crew crafted a well-rounded, refreshing holiday compilation.

A Partridge Family Christmas Card opens with the titular track “My Christmas Card to You.” Like the rest of the album, David Cassidy plays the prominent lead vocalist, with his family providing accompaniment. The thought of my entire family in such confined studio space haunts me, but I suppose Cassidy wasn’t related to the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. “My Christmas Card to You,” as can be inferred from the name, is a sort of vocal Christmas card. Cassidy wishes Merry Christmas to his listeners. Considering his fanbase at the time of release, this probably consisted of gaggles of teenage girls. It’s a creative song, and the only original track on the album. Partridge Family female members provide some great backing vocals.

From here, the album progresses as a string of well-known holiday favorites. While the tunes might not be original compositions, their execution is unique. And let’s be honest, how many Christmas albums feature completely new songs? Instrumentation remains fairly minimalist. You’ll hear strings, drums, some brass and the like, but songs rely on backing vocals heavily. Naturally the “Partridge Family*” members grab mics and contribute to the effort. Sure, you’ve heard “White Christmas” loads of times, but the Partridge version adds small repetitions of “bum-bum-bum” to Cassidy’s upbeat singing. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” adds echoes from the “fam”. There’s a real ‘70s vibe to the entire project.

If you’re a Partridge Family fan, this is a must have album. Casual listeners and those formerly unaware of the Partridges should check this out as a refresher from the traditional Nat King Cole (no offense Nat) and Johnny Mathis tracks. Tune in tomorrow for another Christmas album, and until then stay warm and out of trouble.

*While you might assume the backup vocalists to be the Partridge Family, the only members on the album are David Cassidy and Shirley Jones.