Something Old, Something New, It's Christmastime, What's Wrong With You!
Here are collections of seasonal fare, some old, some new, for your consideration this Holiday Season. Merry Christmas.
Christmas with Johnny Cash
(Columbia Legacy, 2003)
I suspect that there is no calculus by which we mere mortals may estimate the loss to our culture such as the passing of Johnny Cash. His voice was one that was distinctive for 60 years and influenced all associated with it. Alas, this is not his greatest album. Some of the pieces are not a perfect fit for the great Man in Black. But this is no matter, because as such, Mr. Cash made all of these pieces his own and he was not about to give them back. Mr. Cash is better on the narrative pieces than the singing ones. Cue up "The Christmas Guest" and understand that God was not available for the recording session, so Johnny Cash had to do it.
Seasonal Carols from Slovenia
(Naxos World, 2003)
This is the World Music offering for this year. Winter Kolednica is a collection of Slovenian carols sung in accustomed manner of the Slovenian homeland. Thusly, the music sounds rustic like genuine Shakers singing genuine Shaker Hymns. I cannot say that this is attractive music. It is emotionalhappy, solemn, and reverent, while all the time retaining a bona fide folk ambience. The music has a distinct Eastern European flavor with a hint of curry about the edges. This is a necessary listen for we uninformed Westerners to have at least some basic idea form where our own musical heritage came.
Long, Long Ago
(Guava Jamm, 2003)
Long, Long Agois a weird little bird that takes advantage of addressing all of the holiday observances: Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanza. Lynette Washington's voice is durable and full-bodied as is her band. The disc is short (35:25) and consists of only six songs. However, this is not the standard fare and thus is justly interesting. The way to look at this recording is to pretend that Elvin Jones assembled a jazz band to play holiday music and the singer was a deft combination of Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and Neena Freelon. Produced by Ms. Washington, Long, Long Ago can (and should) be obtained from Guava Jamm Entertainment .
(MAXJAZZ Holiday Series, 2003)
The super-talented Eric Reed provides MaxJazz its first solo Holiday disc. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" tips its hat high to the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. Reed provides competent vocal delights on "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Reed and his trio take a swinging spin with "the Christmas Song," "Little Drummer Boy," and "I Wonder as I Wander." He flies solo on "Lo, How a rose e're Blooming," "Christmas Blues," and "Adeste Fideles" (the latter on organ). This writer not-so-seretly hopes that Reed records a solo holiday disc - his talent is that big.
Christmasis Edward Gerhard's first holiday recording. The acoustic guitar and slide guitar master lends his considerable talents to a set of 14 well known Christmas carols; carols that he treats with tender loving are and a conservative father's gentle hand. The results are simply beautiful. "Good King Wenceslas," "Coventry Carol," and "O Holy Night" are splendidly cast in an acoustic folk vein. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" is treated as a lullaby while "Pachelbel's Canon in D Major" is executed as a set of variations, a nice juxtaposition to George Winston's efforts. Gerhard has the chops the royally screw up these sacred pieces. Gratefully, he is a conservative man with a reverent vision.
On A Cold Winter's Night
Like Christmas, Gerhard's On a Cold Winter's Night is played with a creatively reverent and conservative flare. Separated from the previous holiday offering by seven year, On a Cold Winter's Night contains the same mix of the secular and choral, performed with deft precision that is not accomplished at the expense of warmth and genuine happiness. If the Fahey collection (below) is a bit to enigmatic for the average listener, I recommend this or both of Edward Gerhard's efforts. His arrangements are straightforward without being boring, and just creative enough not to sound experimental. Check out the Hawaiian "White Christmas" and the Christmas Medley of "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," "O come, All Ye Faithful," and "Jingle Bells."
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr.
Christmas With the Rat Pack
(Capitol Records, 2003)