Tis the season: time to shuffle up the Christmas library and see what comes out. This is a tradition we started at Christmas of 2007, although it’s not much of a tradition—we managed to do it only once last year, so enjoy this post in case we don’t get around to it again.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”/Bob Dylan/Christmas in the Heart. This album is no less perplexing two years after its release than it was the day it came out. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” features an old-school vocal ensemble of a style that went out of date sometime in the 1950s, and the Poet of a Generation sounds like Tom Waits in the first stages of emphysema.
“Blue Christmas”/Bruce Springsteen/Merry Christmas From Asbury Park (bootleg). Merry Christmas from Asbury Park was assembled from various audience tapes, and attempts to recreate the typical Springsteen show you would have heard at the Asbury Park Convention Hall at Christmastime circa 2000. “Blue Christmas” is done as a straight country song, driven by a fiddle and Springsteen’s best rural honk.
“Old Fashioned Christmas”/Duke Pearson/Merry Ole Soul. I used to play the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack in the middle of the summer because I liked it so much. Duke Pearson’s Merry Ole Soul is another one good enough to play year-round, containing mostly holiday chestnuts rearranged with wit and soul. “Old Fashioned Christmas” is a bonus track from a 2003 Blue Note compilation that collected five of Pearson’s albums released between 1968 and 1970.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”/Partridge Family/A Partridge Family Christmas Card. According to Joel Whitburn’s Christmas in the Charts (which has been entertaining the hell out of me this week), A Partridge Family Christmas Card topped Billboard‘s Christmas albums chart for four weeks in December 1971. The Partridges’ sweet version of this song appeared in the episode broadcast December 11, 1971, in which David Cassidy gets the same treatment as his TV siblings usually got—his lips are moving but his voice isn’t anywhere on the record.
“Silent Night”/Charlie Musselwhite/The Alligator Records Christmas Collection. Musselwhite performs the old carol on a blues harp. This is the most beautiful thing you’re going to hear today.
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”/Moog Machine/Christmas Becomes Electric. After the Moog synthesizer became commercially viable in the late 60s, and the album Switched-On Bach proved there was an audience for electronic music, synthesizer albums briefly became a thing. Christmas Becomes Electric was released in 1969. Most of the songs are played fairly straight, although a couple create more adventuresome soundscapes. Listen to several tracks here.
“Christmas Time”/Jimmy McCracklin/Blue Yule: Christmas R&B and Blues Classics. “Christmas Time,” a terrific swaggering blues number, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Which means it’s 50 years of wondering why McCracklin sang the word “Christmas” as “chrismon” every single time.
“Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”/Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings/MOJO’s Festive Fifteen. When I was a kid, I used to wonder how Santa would get in our house, since the only chimney on the roof went straight down into the oil-burning furnace. My mother explained that he came through the front door like everybody else, which was good enough for me. Sharon Jones had a similar question as a young girl, and in 2009, she turned it into a song. “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” was released as a single by Daptone in 2009 and appeared on MOJO’s 2010 Christmas compilation.
“My Little Drum”/Rick Braun/40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas. When the famous TV special and its glorious soundtrack celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2005, a number of smooth jazz artists collaborated on a tribute album. Braun’s trumpet version of “My Little Drum,” Vince Guaraldi’s improvisation on “The Little Drummer Boy,” hits a mellow groove to rival the original.
“I Want to Spend Christmas With You”/Roomful of Blues/Roomful of Christmas. This 1997 album updates some of the greatest R&B Christmas tunes of all time, including this one by Lowell Fulson. Sounds like a party in a box.