Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

This week we're spinning some recently reissued seasonal sounds and tunes to trim your tree by. Most containing material that hasn't been available on CD in years (if ever).

Bing Crosby -- Christmas Classics (Capitol/EMI)

This 16-song collection contains Bing Crosby's I Wish You A Merry Christmas (1962) long player. Included are the timeless standards "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," "Frosty The Snowman," "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!". "O Holy Night," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," as well as the medley of "What Child Is This?" and "The Holly And The Ivy" provide a variety of traditional and sacred selections.

Of course the package could not be considered complete without Crosby's trademark "White Christmas." The version found here was lifted from a hard-to-find recording, circa Crosby's December '57 appearance on The Frank Sinatra Show. Among the other supplementary sides are "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Do You Hear What I Hear?," and wrapping up the festivities is the legendary "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" duet with David Bowie from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas -- the final TV special to feature Der Bingle, who passed away before the show actually aired.

The dBs and Friends -- Christmas Time Again (Collector's Choice Music)

If you wanna little rockin' in your stockin', look no further than this updated edition of Christmas Time (1993) from North Carolina-based power pop guru Chris Stamey and his merry band of rouges The dB's. The contents of the original 17-song anthology has been somewhat reconfigured and sizably upgraded for a total of 21 tunes.

In addition to the dB's "Christmas Time," "Home For The Holidays," "Holiday Spirit" and "Feliz Navidad"  there are a host of notable guest contributors. Offerings from Marshall Crenshaw ("Lonely Christmas"), Big Star ("Jesus Christ"), Alex Chilton ("The Christmas Song"), Don Dixon ("Christmas Is Saturday" and "I Saw Three Ships"), fellow-dB Peter Holsapple ("O Holy Night") and Wes Lachot ("Christmas Is The Only Time") provide just a few of the greatest grooves found within.

If you can't locate a copy of Christmas Time Again at your favorite retailer, you can definitely obtain one at Collectors' Choice Music's online audio boutique, found here: <http://www.ccmusic.com>.

Ella Fitzgerald -- Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas (Capitol/EMI)

Although conspicuously absent from the title, Ella Fitzgerald's Christmas (1967) also contains the spiritually-themed Brighten The Corner (1967). Both feature the divine Miss Ella accompanied by the Ralph Carmichael Choir and Orchestra. Additionally, the projects fit quite well together as both centre on hymns and other scripture-based songs.

"O Holy Night," "Silent Night," "The First Noel," "Away In A Manger," "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," "O Come All Ye Faithful," and the lesser-known "Sleep, My Little Lord Jesus" are but a sampling of the highlights. Equally as inspired are the more traditional tunes from Brighten The Corner. Standouts include "That Old Rugged Cross," "Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me," "What A Friend We Have In Jesus," "In Need Thee Every Hour," "Abide With Me," and the positive message of the title track "Brighten The Corner (Where You Are)".

Johnny Mathis -- Gold: A 50th Anniversary Christmas Collection (Columbia/Legacy)

This single-disc companion to the PBS special Johnny Mathis: Wonderful, Wonderful! is a compilation taken from the artist's considerable back catalogue of Christmas and holiday recordings.

Mathis himself selected the 15 tunes with staples from the legendary late '50s Mitch Miller-produced sides. The vocalist is supported by Percy Faith and his Orchestra on the perennial favorites "Sleigh Ride," "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On …)" and "Silver Bells."  There is also a smattering from Christmas Eve With Johnny Mathis (1986), namely "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year," "The Christmas Waltz," and the familiar medley of "Caroling, Caroling" with "Happy Holidays". Extracted from Mathis' most recent offering The Christmas Album (2001) are "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," and "Have A Holly, Jolly Christmas". This version comes as close to besting Burl Ives' original as recent memory serves.

Various Artists -- The Best of Ultimate Soul Christmas (Capitol/EMI)

There'll be a lot of 'ho ho ho' ing with this CD as the soundtrack. After years of putting up with my own homemade seasonal R&B samplers, the 18 songs found here provide a perfect blend of established old school names along with newer artists.

Legends Donny Hathaway ("This Christmas"), Nat Cole ("The Christmas Song"), Lena Horne ("Let It Snow!"), Lou Rawls ("What Are You Doing New Years' Eve?"), Fats Domino ("Please Come Home For Christmas") and blues icon Charles Brown ("Merry Christmas, Baby") are joined by some of today's hottest singers and musicians. En Vogue ("With My Honey"), Donald Lawrence ("Carol Of The Bells"), Babyface ("You Were There") and Alexander O'Neal ("My Gift To You") all lend their talents to help make the season bright.


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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