Doin’ the Christmas Shuffle, Volume 3

A note before we begin: If you tried downloading The Spirit of Christmas by the Living Strings last week, you probably noticed that one of the links didn’t work. I’ve fixed it now, so go here to find it, and accept my apologies for being an idiot. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming—10 more random tracks from my Christmas stash.

“Stoned Soul Christmas”/Binky Griptite. This just went up today at Flea Market Funk, a holiday version of the Fifth Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic” by one of Sharon Jones’ (and Amy Winehouse’s) Dap Kings.

“Christmas With Jesus”/Josh Rouse/Under Cold Blue Stars. I like Rouse generally, but this tune baffles me completely. Share my bafflement, or figure out what the hell this is about and then tell me, here.

“Santa Claus”/Little Charlie and the Nightcats/The Alligator Records Christmas Collection. “I wanna hit the lottery for Christmas.” Me, too. There are many fine blues renditions of holiday tunes on this record, from Koko Taylor, Charlie Musselwhite, Son Seals, and others.

“Peace on Earth (Good Will to Men)”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles/A Season for Miracles. Almost everybody who was anybody at Motown released an entire Christmas album at some point—Stevie, the Temps, the Supremes, the Jackson Five—but the Miracles’ 1970 record is the best of them. Thanks to the fine soul blog Fullundie for this and other Motown rarities, Christmas-related and not.

“Silent Night”/Rick Wakeman/Christmas Variations. In which one of the prog-rock heroes of my youth does Christmas in a style more new-agey than proggy. There are some lovely carols on this record, recorded in 2000 but not released in the States until last year.

“Sleigh Ride”/Duke Pearson/Jingle Bell Jam: Jazz Christmas Classics. This is one of the best tunes on one of the best compilations in my collection, a tasty, understated, playful version of a song that ends up too cute in the hands of most people. It also appears on an album the pianist made in 1969 for Blue Note called Merry Ole Soul. In a moment, I’m off to iTunes to see if I can find it.

“Deck the Halls”/Ottmar Liebert/Poets + Angels. On this album, Liebert frequently changes up familiar songs by rearranging the melodies and/or interpolating his own original tunes. If you’re an artist recording Christmas tunes that are this simple and this familiar, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to take a similarly fresh approach, although the stores are full of Christmas CDs on which the artists don’t.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”-“Christmas Blues”/Willie Nelson/Pretty Paper. This is split into two tracks on the album, but you gotta play ’em together since they fit together so well. Willie and Booker T. Jones produced Pretty Paper in 1979 following their collaboration on the marvelous Stardust a year earlier, and why they never got together to do it again, I can’t imagine. They clearly got the memo about taking a fresh approach. The album is quintessentially Willie and quintessentially Christmas at the same time.

“Ding Dong Merrily on High”/George Shearing Quintet. Among people of a certain age, the “Shearing Sound” is instantly recognizable—vibraphone and guitar tripling the melodies Shearing plays on piano—and it always swings, even on a song like this. It’s an old French melody that was turned into a Christmas carol in the 19th century based on the sound of a carillon ringing changes—a lovely style of music, bu one that does not swing, at least in the jazz sense.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”/Earl Grant/Winter Wonderland. I liked this 1965 album a lot when I first heard it last year, although this year, some of it seems less like jazz and more like accompaniment for a couples’ dance at the roller rink. Not here, though: This version of “Rudolph” uses the original tune as an excuse for improvisation—in other words, a fresh approach. What a concept.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”/Earl Grant (out of print)

One thought on “Doin’ the Christmas Shuffle, Volume 3

  1. I have an mp3 of Chicago’s Robert Lamm performing “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, I’m not sure when or where it’s from, but it is a rarity. I do know that it predates both of Chicago’s Christmas albums. If you’re interested I’d be happy to share it with you.

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