Season’s Greetings – The Allentown Band
America’s oldest continuous town band – since 1828 – put a concert band spin on 12 Christmas tunes which range from bombastic to pensive. An organ is on hand to assist with the “bombastic” selections. An interesting aspect of this album is that while they do indeed play some Christmas classics, they have added some seldom heard pieces to their Christmas repertoire including pieces by Edwin Franko Goldman, Alfred Reed, and Percy Faith.
Angels Glory – Kathleen Battle & Christopher Parkening
Battle manages what many opera stars cannot…she tames her voice to make it an intimate instrument, paired with guitar virtuoso Parkening for this quiet album of primarily classical, spiritual, and folk Christmas pieces. Perfect for the Advent Season. Note for Chad Mitchell Trio fans: When Parkening is in his “accompanying” mode, he is strongly reminiscent of the great Jacob Ander.
A Guitar for Christmas – Liona Boyd
The story is that Liona Boyd received a guitar for Christmas when she was 15 years old. That guitar led to a very successful recording and concert career and some of the cleanest classical technique ever. Her Christmas album is another that is perfect for the Advent season… meditative and beautiful in its simplicity.
Merry Christmas & Snowfall – Jackie Gleason
“The melodies are familiar ones, but their settings most certainly are not, for even Jingle Bells emerges as a lovely, almost haunting thing in the hands of Jackie Gleason…” So sayeth the liner notes to “Merry Christmas”. Gleason’s highly successful “Music for Lovers Only” albums were as elegant as the boutonnière in The Great One’s buttonhole and he brings that elegance and style to these arrangements. Pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, fire up the gas logs, play a Gleason CD on the stereo, and enjoy a quietly romantic Christmas celebration with your true love. Note: The Gleason albums have all been repackaged so many times that these may be sold under different titles and/or with different selections.
Christmas – Mannheim Steamroller
There are 12 days of Christmas and probably that many Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums by now, but the first is the best. Difficult to describe and that’s part of its charm. Suffice it to say that when I broke up with a romantic partner a few years ago, I wasn’t heartbroken until I discovered that she had taken custody of the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD. Now I have my own copy and my heart is mended.
What Child Is This? – The Miller-Rowe Consort
There was a time when hammered dulcimers were pervasive in Christmas albums… with mixed degrees of success. At its worst, the hammered dulcimer can be overbearing on almost any other instrument to the point of severely limiting the arranger’s tone palate. Conversely, The Miller-Rowe Consort is a duo in the truest sense of the word… weaving guitar and hammered dulcimer lightly and seamlessly to create a very enjoyable album. Miller and Rowe are based out of Spartanburg SC, too, so what a great way to support the local economy!
Cornets for Christmas – Mr. Jack Daniels Original Silver Cornet Band
Jack Daniels really did furnish instruments and uniforms for a Silver Cornet band in Lynchburg, Tennessee and in the early 1980s Dave Fulmer saw a picture of the band and that inspired him. He gathered up a grant, some of the finest musicians in the Nashville area, turn of the century or replica instruments, uniforms and props, and the real stroke of genuius: Greig McRitchie to fashion the arrangements. Every one of the arrangements on this album and indeed on all of the early Silver Cornet Band albums is pure genius. Note: Lynchburg is in a dry county, so if you tour the distillery, don’t count on a free taste-testing.
Merry Christmas from London – Lorrie Morgan
No “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on this country music star’s Christmas album. Indeed, it doesn’t sound like a country album at all, not only because Morgan is accompanied by The New World Philharmonic, but because she has some very legit vocal pipes of her own. Christmas album mainstays Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams are along to duet on two of the tunes and Lorrie Morgan pays tribute to her father, George, by singing his “Up on Santa Claus Mountain”. Note: The orchestra was recorded in England, Morgan’s vocals were recorded in Tennessee, Williams’ and Mathis’ duet parts were recorded in Missouri and California, respectively. Loud Recording Studio, Nashville, Tennsessee gets kudos for the mixing on this one.
Christmas with The New Christy Minstrels
A two-album CD containing “Merry Christmas!” and “Christmas with the Christies”. “Merry Christmas!” was recorded while the Christies were at their peak and all of the classic lineup were members with the exception of Dolan Ellis who had just departed and was replaced by Doug Brookins. Beautiful voices, great tunes, inventive arrangements…that’s what the Christies were all about and this album has stood the test of time since its original release in 1963. It is difficult to highlight particular tracks or singers, but “Beautiful City” and “Hosanna, Hallellujah”, which owes something to “Ballad of the Greenland Whalers” are both rollicking and powerful, “One Star” is the lushly beautiful with the incomparable harmony of Gayle Caldwell and Jackie Miller Davidson, and “Parson Brown (Our Christmas Dinner”) as told and acted by Art Podell and Nick Woods is just plain fun. The high lyric tenor that is heard throughout the album belongs to Clarence Treat. Group founder Randy Sparks had retired from the road by this time, but is feautured on “Christmas Wishes”. The second album on the CD, “Christmas with the Christies” was recorded three years later with an almost entirely different – but talented – lineup. While it isn’t as unique and enjoyable as its predecessor, it does make for a good companion piece and is quite listenable. The Christies renditions of “Sleigh Ride” and “Sleigh Bells” on this second album are very good and the idea of performing “Little Drummer Boy” as if it were Ravel’s “Bolero” is imaginative. Bonus tracks and some wonderful liner notes are other features of this CD. Note: The 1963 recording was recorded during the summer, so, in order to get the mood for the music, the Christies threw themselves a Christmas party in the studio with gravel-voiced bass Barry McGuire as Santa Claus.
Christmas the Cowboy Way – Riders in the Sky
The fact that this unique cowboy trio is actually a quartet – or a quintet if you count Too Slim’s alter ego, Side Meat – will give you the best clue as to what to expect from a Riders in the Sky concert or recording. Mix virtuoso musicianship, Bob Nolanesque harmonies, a true love and respect for the western genre, and a wit which ranges from dry to slapstick and you have Riders in the Sky in a nutshell – appropriately.
Christmas Around the World – Andre Rieu
The sprightly elegance of Vienna wrapped up in glittering Christmas tinsel is the best way that I can describe this album. Andre Rieu and his talented musicians perform a mixture of traditional favorites and lesser-known rarities with the fun and artistry that has made them successful the world over.
The Christmas Album – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
An old friend of mine, Michael Eliot, had been an accompanist in New York City. He told me of the Christmas party he attended one Holiday Season which was attended by all of the great voices of opera. The accompanists all took turns on the piano bench and when Michael slid into position, it was to accompany “Schwarzy”, as he called her. I’ll always be thankful to him for that story and for the fact that he made kalua which he gave us every year as a Christmas Present. “Schwarzy” is in fine form on this collection of Christmas favorites…some sung in English, some in German. Note: “The First Noel” is powerful enough to knock icicles from your eves.
Christmas with The Vienna Boys Choir and Hermann Prey
Hermann Prey is probably my favorite operatic baritone of all time. His voice was a mixture of lightness and power and both of those attributes are well-represented on this album. The Vienna Boys Choir are the perfect group to compliment him. A personal favorite is “Silent Night” sung to the accompaniment of guitar as it was originally. Note: this album is difficult to find on CD…usually selections from this album are mixed with another album featuring Placido Domingo and the Vienna Boys Choir.
A Gift of Song – Mason Williams
Mason Williams wrote comedy for the Smothers Brothers, wrote comedy songs, serious songs, and popular songs…the most memorable being “Classical Gas”. He once appeared on The Smothers Brothers Show performing with a clear plexiglass guitar…complete with water and swimming goldfish inside it. Needless to say that “A Gift of Song” is the most eclectic mix of a Christmas album that I have ever heard ranging as they say “from the sublime to the ridiculous”…it is also one of the most enjoyable. Note: “What Tune Is This?” is a “Greensleeves” meets “Classical Gas” – and it works!