Stephen SPAZ Schnee explores Jasmine Records' latest holiday collections!
Music and Christmas are two of my favorite things in the world so it’s a no-brainer that I’m a connoisseur of holiday music. However, this doesn’t mean that I love all Christmas music. People often complain about the commercialization of Christmas and I can assure you that most of the yuletide platters released in the last 30+ years have certainly added fuel to that fire. The holiday music market has become a cesspool of emotionless audio bile, filled to the brim with records made by artists more interested in celebrating their own voices than celebrating Christmas. The amount of vocal acrobatics on Christmas records these days gives me vertigo. We don’t really need to hear Mariah or Celine turn a two syllable word like ‘noel’ into a sentence. If I were to base my love of the holidays on current Christmas recordings, I’d join you in loathing the season. But alas, I try to ignore all of that nonsense and stick to the classics.
For some reason, the world has advanced in many ways yet we’ve lost our emotional connection to the things that once brought us joy and happiness. It seems that when you throw on “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole or “Here Comes Santa Claus” by Gene Autry, you can sense the warmth and fun in every note-as if the musicians truly felt the Christmas spirit and wanted to share it with the listener. Great Christmas records always had that feel to it. Just listen to holiday albums by Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin and you’ll be transported back to your childhood when you really did believe in the magic of Christmas. Good Christmas records were made up through the ‘70s but they petered out when the ‘80s came along. Out went emotion and personality and in came slick production and faceless vocalists. The heart and soul of the season was doomed when Christmas records went from being celebrations to merely pieces of product. This is the reason why I prefer to ignore most Christmas music released in the last three decades (although there are exceptions!).
So, while I’m choosing to stick to the old standbys, you can bet your sweet bippy that I’m also on the prowl to hear more Christmas music from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s – especially recordings I’ve never experienced before. Yes, its great to hear Nat, Bing, Frank, Dean and all the other cool cats and kittens but what about all the great songs from seasons past that were lost amidst the snow drifts and tattered tinsel? I’ve been able to find bits and bobs here and there but there’s so much more I’ve been wanting to hear. Thankfully, there IS a Santa Claus and he answered my wishes this year with a clutch of releases from the great Jasmine Records label. The label has released three fantastic double CD collections this year that are just as fantastic as the other sets they’ve released in the past. If you love Christmas music that really encapsulates the feeling of the season, prepare yourself for some releases that should be on the top of your want list. And order them now because time is running out-you’ll definitely want to play these CDs as much as possible before Santa comes sliding down your chimney this year!
A COUNTRY CHRISTMAS -
HOLIDAY CHEER FROM STARS OF
THE GRAND OLE OPRY!
What the label says: “Some of the most popular country/western artists connected with The Grand Ole Opry are featured, performing outstanding Christmas and seasonal material, many tracks debuting on CD. The great George Jones is heard on four rare tracks, Kitty Wells performs eight fine Christmas songs (in stereo), four great early tracks feature mega-star Tennessee Ernie Ford, western stars Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Gene Autry and Jimmy Wakely are featured. Jimmy Dean. Molly Bee, Eddy Arnold, The Dinning Sisters, Patti Page and Faron Young are also included. There are many well-loved traditional titles featured, and in addition, some great songs that have been brought back: "Lonely Christmas", "An Old Fashioned Tree", "He's A Rootin' Tootin' Santa Claus", "He Was A Man", "My Friend", "Star Of Hope", "Little Sandy Sleighfoot", "Willy Claus", "Blue Snowflakes", "Blue December", "The Light Of The World" and many more. This will be one of the best Country Christmas sets of the decade!”
What SPAZ says: “A great collection of lost nuggets that provides a welcome, home-cooked audio feast for the soul. Some great stuff on this collection that I’ve never heard or never even knew existed. I’ve always felt that old Country was honest and down-to-earth and this collection is proof. Its not all about heartache, though. There are more than enough songs about joy, love and the glory of the holidays.”
HERE WE COME A-CAROLING -
THE GROUPS CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS
What the label says: “This is a vivid Christmas collection featuring some of the very best vocal groups of all time. Debuting on CD (or even LP for that matter) is a wide variety of tracks by the best! The full Christmas album by The Mills Brothers (in stereo) opens the set. Ten dynamic tracks by the fabulous McGuire Sisters are featured. The Ray Charles Singers present an album of traditional hymns and carols. The rare complete album by The Ray Bloch Chorus And Orchestra appears for the first time since the 1950s. Generous samplings by The Ames Brothers, The DeJohn Sisters, The Everly Brothers, The Crew Cuts, The Lennon Sisters and The Browns are included. This set will entertain for many Christmases to come!”
What SPAZ says: “Wow! The Mills Brothers’ recordings are superb. The Everly Brothers’ tracks are completely new to me (although more hardcore fans have probably heard them already). The Three Suns’ tracks are pure holiday Exotica. Lots of great tracks from The Ray Charles Singers, The McGuire Sisters… my mind is spinning as I listen to all this Christmas goodness. Beginning to feel like Buddy the Elf when he hears that Santa is on his way! Some great gems here that will be played every year at my place for certain!”
CHRISTMAS IN THE AIR! -
TELEVISION STARS RING IN THE HOLIDAYS
What the label says: “Featured are outstanding 1950s and 60s television artists who appeared in their own television shows or were frequent guests on various variety shows. Artists include Frankie Laine, Patti Paige, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Arthur Godfrey, Marion Marlowe, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, Eddie Fisher, The Ames Brothers and Eddy Arnold. Superb rarities are included by Nina Simone, Ethel Waters, George Beverly Shea, The Four Lads, Connee Boswell, Helen O'Connell, Art Lund, Clark Dennis, Betty Hutton, Tommy Edwards, Dennis Day and Danny Kaye. In addition to many traditional classic songs, Jasmine have included such tracks as "The Winter Snow", "Christmas Choir", "The Coventry Carol", "Let's Light The Christmas Tree", "Kris Kringle", "If It Doesn't Snow On Christmas", "Greenwillow Christmas" and a wealth of other titles. This set is a must!”
What SPAZ says: “I scratch my head and wonder why I haven’t heard many of these recordings before. Being an avid Christmas music fan, I suppose that its just because the market has always been over-saturated with holiday music and my wallet has always been under-saturated with money! With that being said, some absolutely wonderful stuff here from the famous and the forgotten. The great thing about these comps is that you not only get rare versions of standards but you also get to hear ‘originals’ that never really caught on or maybe died out over the years. I do admit that “Christmas In Killarney” drives me bonkers no matter who performs it. Often times, I wonder if that song was the reason the ‘skip’ button was invented! Another set of real gems here, folks!”
That might seem like a lot of Christmas music but if you love the glow of a fireplace, the smell of apple cinnamon and the hug of a loved one, this music will provide the soundtrack to all of those wonderful experiences. And those are just the ones released this year! Just wait until you hear about some of Jasmine's other yuletide collections...
COMING SOON to this blog:
A VERY JASMINE CHRISTMAS, VOL. 2