My usual golden rule is to not allow any Christmas music to be played in my hearing until Thanksgiving is officially over. This year, in the spirit of John Kerry, I’ve flip-flopped a bit on that stance, and have busted out the Christmas tunes. Plus, driving from KY to IN every weekend gives me some time to do a lot of listening. I decided it was high time to put together my Top 10 list of favorite Christmas CD’s. I've always wanted to, just never had the time. Not that I have the time now, but after a few days of reviewing, refreshing my memory, and sorting through the cheese, I think I have arrived at concensus. Feel free to disagree, submit your own, etc. When possible, I’ll give a link so you can snag these great yuletide tunes for you own collection. Before I get started, a couple of disclaimers:
FIRST, A large number of these are Christian artists. Nothing wrong with that, but remember...I get them cheap and/or free, and I get what I can. If I could get my hands on a bargain-bin version of Hanson's "Snowed In", I would add it to the collection. OK, bad example. Would rather have my wisdom teeth re-installed and re-removed than own anything Hanson. So keep that in mind.
THIRD, Some of these are actually more than one CD. Took some editorial liberties, but I will try to mention which of the 'set' is my actual fave. So buckle your mistletoe....here we go.
It’s no secret that I’m white. Very white. OK, so I don’t clap on 1 and 3, but I’m pretty white. I think that’s why I’ve always liked this CD. It’s kind of the ‘anti-me.’ The title might give it away a bit. Of course, its a take on Handel's Messiah that's flat-out soulful. I believe its produced by Quincy Jones, and features artists like Stevie Wonder, Take 6, Al Jarreau, and others. And a couple of black choirs that just throw down. Assuming 'throwing down' is a good thing. Anyway, if you're familiar with Handel's Messiah, you should really enjoy these renditions. If you're not familiar with The Messiah, you should be! Every Valley is a favorite. I particularly enjoy the instrumental & experiemental opening track entitled "A Partial History of Black Music." But one of my all-time favorite tunes is the culmination of the disc, which I think would make Handel smile. When the rip into "The Hallelujah Chorus," I just have to crank it up. That song needs to be very loud when its played. the only thing possibly better than listening to this over & over would be to hear it live. It's terrific. You can get it on Amazon.
#9 - Blues For The Child
Not sure how many people actually own this - its fairly obscure. I discovered it several years after its release and had to grab it on eBay. Some of this is conjecture on my part, but I believe the guy behind this project was a blues musician named Lanny Cordola. It was released in the early 90’s and slid under my radar. Happened to hear Chris Lizotte do a song one year at an event and asked him if it was recorded, and he told me it was on this project (actually, not sure the song I asked him about was actually on this, but he has 2 other cuts). If you know Chris and his music, the phrase “and the mountains in reply echo back their glorious strain” in his "Angels We Have Heard On High" track are vintage Lizotte. Very cool bluesy/jazzy version of Silent Night with some unknown female vocalist, and an instrumental guitar/dobro/mandolin rendition of "What Child Is This" that stays on my current Christmas tune playlist. Also a technically beautiful guitar version of "The Christmas Song." If you can find this CD, its good and worth the hunt.
#8 - Happy Christmas Volumes 1-4
This is actually 4 cd's. Sue me. The folks at Tooth ‘n Nail records, home to a host of eclectic bands, released these over a number of successive years. There are lots of highlights throughout the collection (not sure if they put out more of 4 of these), but they’re quite fun. My favorite from the collection is Happy Christmas Vol. 2. Includes Sixpence None The Richer doing "The Grinch" (that song had to have been written with Leigh Nash in mind), and another band that I know nothing about named Viva Voce doing their ‘airy techno’ version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." When they kick in at the turn, it always makes me smile. (Sort of like that chick from Flyleaf in that first song they had that was popular called "I'm So Sick" where she screams. Makes me smile and hit replay). Several great cuts on each of these volumes from Relient K, Switchfoot, Supertones, and a host of bands that you may or may not know. Fairly fresh & fun. The Sarah Masen song, "Heaven's Got A Baby" on Vol. 3 is another personal favorite.
#7 - Merry Christmas from Doc Severinson and The Tonight Show Orchestra
Another absolute gem from the early 90’s. First, for many of you, Doc Severinson was (is?) a fabulous trumpet player, and a big band leader. Before Leno and his “copy the funny stuff from Letterman’s show” routine, Doc led the band for the show, and occasionally they toured and recorded (never got to see them in person, but would have loved that chance). I’m an old-school ‘band’ guy, and have enjoyed that a good bit with my kids and their musical pursuits. So I do love a good big band sound. This Christmas CD is full of wonderful big-band arrangements that just fill the room. Great orchestration and plenty of jazz influence. Plenty here to appreciate for both musician and listener both. Not a bad song on the disc, and its easy to find on ebay, Amazon, et al.
#6 - The Blind Boys of Alabama – ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’
I like this because its just different than the same-old. There’s just something cool about the music these guys produce (their release with Ben Harper is another fave of mine). Granted, this is the kind of thing you either really like or really don’t care for at all. Joining them are a host of guest vocalists like Harry Connick Jr., Tom Waits, Chrissie Hynde, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples, George Clinton and others. Favorite tracks include the title cut, and ‘Last Month of the Year.’ Another one of those CD's that sounds better as loud as you can get it. A real Christmas gem, though one that's a little polarizing at my house (I think I'm the only one who likes & appreciates it)
So there it is for now....numbers 10 through 6. Will post my top 5 tomorrow. But I can't end this post without this next piece of Christmas cheer.....
The CD that I can’t believe I actually own:
Yo! Ho Ho – Various Christian Rap Artists
I wish I was kidding. But I’m not. Apparently in 1990, this was necessary. Wait, I was there….and this was never necessary! But it happened, and somehow I have it in my collection. Before I get into the absurdity of it all, here is some of the brilliant copy from the back of the jewel case:
“So here’s the deal. It’s Christmas and Rap is happenin’. YO! HO HO! is in your face. You have always wondered what Christmas would be with a hip M.C. Well, here it is…YO! HO HO! Features your favorite Christian rappers comin’ correct for Christmas. Chill out – rap it up!”
I can’t imagine that anyone connected to his product is actually proud to be forever embedded on this disk. From the title track by DC Talk, to "Drummer Boy" by E.T.W., to the unforgettable "Mary Had A Little Lamb" by M.C. Ge Gee (I wonder if that name fits on his Shoney’s nametag…EDIT....OK, apparently M.C. Ge Gee is actually a girl...), this is truly a collectors item. I almost put it on ebay, but then realized that it was too valuable to let out of my sight!
Here’s some lyrical content from "Drummer Boy" by E.T.W. (I believe that stood for End Time Warriors, if you’re taking notes at home:
“A little drummer boy back in the day,
came to the stable where Jesus lay
He saw a big star a shinin’, three wise men in line
Bearing fresh gifts, and busting fresh rhymes”
I wish I was making that up, because its amazingly funny now. I guess in 1990, it was a fresh as a Bel Air prince.
Really, I don’t know if you could ever find a copy of this….but its worth a laugh. Or better yet, take the $ you would spend on this glorified coaster and send it to World Vision or the charity of your choice. The artists on this project will be eternally grateful that you didn't listen to this embarrassing piece of anecdotal trivia that's part of an unending stream of garbage put out by Christians in the name of entertainment back in the day. It got better....but mostly because it couldn't get much worse! There is one of these currently on ebay...better bust a move and get over there. And while you're at it, throw your hands in the air like you just don't care.