33 1/3 Holiday Albums You Better Have…Or Else

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Posted December 2, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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29

Wynton Marsalis
Crescent City Christmas Card
(Columbia, 1989)

Cool yule best describes the sentiments of this New Orleans holiday fest by post pop sensation Wynton Marsalis. He swings through a superior reading of “The Carol of the Bells” and pulls off one of the finer episodic renderings of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” to date. Marsalis, surrounded by a crew of talented jazzmen like Jon Hendricks, Ben Riley, Reginald Veal, also opens the door to more innovative twists, including the colliding-of-worlds duet with opera star Kathleen Battle on “Silent Night.”

 

28

John Denver & the Muppets
A Christmas Together
(RCA, 1979)

On A Christmas Together, Jim Henson’s gang of puppets merges with the posterchild of ‘70’s country folk for an entertaining set loaded with lighthearted humor, fireplace warmth and sentimental magic. There’s plenty to pick from: Fozzie, Rowlfe and pals tackle the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” like Show Biz’s Rock-afire Explosion. Listeners will be greeted with the one-minute of fun heard on the Miss Piggy-led “Christmas Is Coming” and Denver’s duet with Rowlf on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The album’s highlight, of course, is hearing Miss Piggy’s vocal struggle with her long sustained notes on “Twelve Days of Christmas” (“five gold rings”). To this day, no version of the countdown carol favorite tops Denver’s.

 

27

Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry for the Holidays
(Sony/Columbia, 2003)

To date the New Orleans jazzman has whipped out four holiday albums, but Harry for the Holidays is a tour de force, an irresistible sophisticated palette of everything synonymous with Connick’s world of pop-jazz. The “Hey Pachuco” injections on “Frosty the Snowman” starts the party, while the soulful “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” puts his sixteen-piece band in the spotlight for some excellent solos. Also important to the set are his Sinatra-injected “I’m Gonna Be the First One,” Connick’s strange take on Nat Cole’s standard “Nature Boy,” and his jolly “The Happy Elf,” which puts a big red bow atop this holiday spectacular.

 

26

Mahalia Jackson
Christmas With Mahalia
(Columbia, 1968)
Marty Paich – father of Toto’s David Paich, has appeared on so droves of holiday albums at Columbia. His arrangements on Christmas With Mahalia is extra poignant. Despite Paich’s keen-eyed ability to create a crossover victory for the Queen of Gospel despite what the naysayers believed, these arrangements allow her contralto pipes to soar to the rafters. She attacks the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” like a songbird on Broadway. The arrangement aboard “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is extra charming to the mix, sounding like a Nat Cole march for kids. But as usual for gospel’s leading lady, Mahalia’s voice is constantly overflowing with seriousness, showcased best on her sermonic rendering of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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