The original ramble on Christmas Discs, posted in 2007:
The Christmas discs are starting to hit the shelves of your (soon to be out of business) local record store and the front page of iTunes. And on it, he played all of those wonderful “various artists” discs from Goodyear and Firestone and the Western Auto store. You have to be of a certain age, I think.
Anyway, there are many Christmas recordings that made an imprint on my formative years. Some still do. One or two discs make their way into what I like to think of as the permanent Christmas collection each year. I won’t rate them, because they’re all worthy in my book.
Here then, are my favorites that feature Girl Singers:
Carpenters – Christmas Portrait (A & M)
The gold standard. I owned this on vinyl, on cassette (to play on the way to Mom and Dad’s house), and now on CD. Worth every dime for the overture that opens the disc alone. Play it loudly. I never gave “Christmas Waltz” a second thought until I heard Karen Carpenter sing it. Now, it’s the first one I go looking for when I break out the collection – somewhere just before Thanksgiving.
Amy Grant – Home For Christmas (A & M)
She’s looser now – seems like she’s having more fun. I never paid much attention to Amy Grant until she started doing secular music, too. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” gets a great treatment, and Ms. Grant’s version of “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is the only one I know that could beat Brenda Lee’s.
Karen Newman – What Christmas Means To Me (High Heel)
It’s a Detroit thing. Perhaps it’s a Detroit Red Wings thing. Ms. Newman is best known for singing the national anthem at hockey games. Gets played a lot over the Holidays in my old home town. She’s just outstanding, and deserves more attention than she gets – even in Detroit. Anyway, her original, “Christmas Eve on Woodward Avenue” is the standout here. But again, it probably means more to me, because it hits most of the cultural icons that mean Christmas in Detroit. Stop laughing. Detroit does have cultural icons. Ironically, my copy was lost when my car was stolen in Detroit in 2001. Now you can laugh.
Barbra Streisand – A Christmas Album (Columbia)
Became the treatments that lots of others were measured against. Another that made the transition from vinyl to cassette to CD.
Jaci Velasquez – Christmas (Word)
Given by a family friend – perhaps to make up for all the discs that were lost in the “Grand Theft Auto,” above.
It’s really a two-fer. Great new versions of some old classics – like “The Christmas Song,” but also a new version of my all-time favorite – “The Chipmunk Song.” Great fun.
The Mantini Sisters – Christmas (Indie Pool)
There’s nothing quite like sibling harmony. I can’t put my finger on it, exactly – except that when one listens to Ann Hampton Callaway and her sister, Liz – or to Karen and Richard Carpenter – or to the Righteous Brothers (okay, I’m kidding), you can hear something special.
The Mantini Sisters have apparently been tearing it up around the Niagara area of Ontario for quite some time. Who knew? I didn’t – until a disc came flying in over the transom.
This disc is something special; I typically rate holiday discs on the basis of whether they’ll make it into the permanent collection – the 25-disc changer that only gets used at Christmas these days.
Oh, my yes. This one’s there.
Delicate is the word that comes immediately to mind. Intricate harmonies. Nice solo turns. I wonder what might happen if they kicked it up a notch, and dropped into a lower register. I get the notion that they’ve slowed it all down in order to get that handcrafted feeling. I’d be willing to hear more flaws, in order to hear them pick up the tempo, especially on tunes like, “Sleigh Ride,” or “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.”
But I’m nit-picking. I used the right word earlier. Handcrafted. And this one is. “What Child Is This” is worth the price of admission alone; as is the “Silent Night/In Heavenly Peace” medley, with just a hint of country.
You may have to hunt a little to find this one. Amazon.ca shows the disc out of print. I found it on a Canadian download service, and at iTunes. Google around a little. It’ll be worth the hunt.
Very highly recommended…make it part of your permanent collection, too!
Barbara Montgomery – Noel, One From The Heart (Mr. Bean and Bumpy)
You have to have this kind of voice – to do the kind of turn she does on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” It opens with the verse that’s not often used – “I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love/Even more than I usually do.”
This disc is full of winners. A bluesy turn on Peter, Paul and Mary’s “A’ Soalin,” a few that aren’t often heard on these kind of offerings – “Carol Of The Children,” a spiritual “Children Go Where I Send Thee” – and it closes with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
I must have been good. Santa must have been listening. Goose bumps.
More coming up this weekend, including reviews of some of this year’s Christmas offerings – like Sheryl Crow, and a pair of Irenes; Nachreiner and Atman. Till then, here’s a little Christmas Cheer from Rosie and Vera-Ellen (she of the 18-inch waist!), and “Sisters,” from my holiday favorite, “White Christmas.”