Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Repentent Curmudgeon's Christmas Music List

Over at a fellow curmudgeon's site, Mr. Whisky Prajer has linked to a list of the top ten Worst Christmas related songs. A list, I might add, that seems to have been compiled by a sack of wet-behind-their-deaf-ears youngins who haven’t tromped around the earth long enough to have been truly and permanently injured by songs of Christmas past.

Trying to prove that old dogs can be persuaded to go through the motions of new tricks, I'll remove my curmudgeon crown and list my version of the Top 12 Christmas Albums. A completely subjective list, for sure, but a stack of CD's that have been listened to over innumerable holiday seasons without producing even one Gringe Cringe. For all of the curmudgeons out there? Well there’s hope, still, for those of us whose hearts have not completely frozen over. Of course, by producing this list, I’m assuming that the natural tendencies of curmudgeon-dom will come out. So, I would be disappointed if one of you didn’t leave a lump of coal in the comment section.

Here's the list, in no particular order of preference although...

...1) Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues is my all time favorite. Almost always appropriate. Always soothing and calming in the storm of conflicting celebration. I swear that the room temperature goes up and that I smell wood burning when I put this CD on. His piano playing is sublime; his voice divine. THE CD that can be played over and over without annoyance coming in on its little reindeer hooves.

2) Dave McKenna's Christmas Party (which is the same as his Christmas Ivory release) is an album of many interpretive possibilities. It’s simply the recently departed Mr. McKenna’s two hands and one piano. No vocals at all. Great background music that sooths the beast in us all at family gatherings and, yet, a deeply involving album that will have you pushing the pause and back buttons frequently so as to hear certain passages over and over. As with all of this playing, Mr. McKenna combined a touch of subtlety with a show of left hand force that made a "fist in a velvet glove" an earful.

3) Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas. What more can I add to most everyone’s accolades? Listening to it immediately brings back memories of parked in pj’s on wall-to-wall carpeting entranced by a musical cartoon with kids singing with way-too-big mouths (because there’s so much joy in kids, only outsize mouths are possible to release said joy-age) and philosophizing about the Spirit of Christmas. We were little Wittgensteins and Santayanas preparing for dolthood.

4) Dovetailing with #3 is Cyrus Chestnut's take on "A Charlie Brown Christmas", titled….A Charlie Brown Christmas. This CD is not the entire Guaraldi album re-done. Other selections like "The Christmas Song" and some Chestnut compositions are interspersed with choice songs from Guaraldi.

5) Rhino Records, as usual, comes up with a compilation that is tasty and oft-played. Blue Yule offers up some gems by Eddie C. Campbell, a few from Lightening Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, and an old favorite from Canned Heat. There’s humor, sadness, and certainly a tug on the blues here. Scratchy songs will make you think you’re playing vinyl on your CD player while most of the songs cry of having one’s baby home. If you aren’t hugging your significant other after listening to this album and promisin’, "Baby, I’ll change my ways....starting with next year.", well...you’d better hope that Santa delivers that heart you’ve asked for this Christmas.

6) Maxjazz is a small record company out of St. Louis that consistently puts out great-sounding CD’s of artists that should but don’t garner national fame and attention. LaVerne Butler is a particular favorite and Rebecca Martin, another. They offer two holiday records. Eric Reed’s Merry Magic is understatement personified. If you like your holiday listening to be solitary on occasion, this one’s a great pick to hole up with.

7) The other MaxJazz CD offered is a compilation of Christmas cheer as performed by a cluster of artists from the label. MaxJazz Holiday is a fabulous display of the vocal powers of LaVerne Butler, Carla Cook, LaVerne Butler, René Marie, Christine Hitt, Phillip Manuel, and Mary Stallings. If you want to get an idea of the vocal talent of the MaxJazz singers stable, this is a great CD to listen to. Bruce Barth’s arrangements and piano playing are unique in the presentation of traditional Christmas aural fare.

Tomorrow, the balance of the Twelve Days of Christmas Music Favorites will be completed.

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Lucky for me, I can not hear this at work...

Not a rickRoll.

And that's not even close to the generations-long river of evil that is the UK "Christmas No. 1", where none dare dip their toe.
Well. Reading Prajer's comments, I see you beat me to it.
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