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Reggae Christmas, various artists (Tassa)

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regxm2.jpgFrom 1991, not a lot of surprises here. All the tunes are covers, with the possible exception of "Christmas Time is Here" by the Heptones; at least I didn't recognize it, anyway. The backing for Desi Roots' version of "The Christmas Song" is recycled for an instrumental version featuring saxophonist Dean Fraser. The soulful reggae takes of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Tiger and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by White Mice are interesting, and Judy Mowatt does a nice job with "Do You Hear What I Hear." A Christmas medley by the 809 Band kicks off the album and is kind of dull, but the group appears elsewhere on the album backing the vocalists.

danshal.jpgAnother compilation of reggae Christmas tunes with sketchy liner notes, this 1991 album was apparently recorded all at once rather than compiled from various sources, since the album credits backup musicians and lists the recording studio (in Englewood, N.J., strangely enough). Artists include Sugar Minott, Horace Andy, Maxine Miller and a number of others. Some of the tunes are standards, like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Silver Bells," but most are original tunes, or toasts in the case of "Spreadout Christmas" by Mikey Jarrett, "Celebrate Christmas" by Governor Twos and "Have a Merry Christmas Baby" by Little George. James Bond and Sluggy manage to put a reggae twist on Phil Spector's arrangement of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" briefly, but then it turns into a toasting arrangement that also borrows "Jingle Bells" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The album in total sounds a bit samey-samey, but it's all right for breaking out favorite cuts for a mix tape.

carlene.jpgAnother Sly & Robbie-backed production from around 1993, Carlene is a veteran singer who began combining her reggae with gospel around 1995. This is actually her first Christmas album, and not surprisingly, it sounds a lot like the other Sly & Robbie Christmas performances we have heard here. Like many reggae holiday albums, this features the big medley, this one called "Bright Christmas" that includes "Mary's Boy Child," "Joy to the World," "O Holy Night," "Go Tell It On the Mountain" and "Wish You a Merry Christmas." She kicks off with a smooth "Little Drummer Boy" and reggaes up "Silent Night" nicely. She does a song called "Give Love on Christmas Day" that I can't track down; it's not the Jackson Five number. Carlene's second Christmas album is Christmas Everyday from 2002, also on VP, with what looks like a totally original lineup more in keeping with her current direction. Songs include "Send the Soldiers Home," "A Cradle in Bethlehem," "Fi Me Jesus" and the title song. That one appears to be out of print, however.
yelloman.jpgReggae and dancehall music fans know Yellowman, the albino DJ/toaster and recording artist who came out of Jamaica in 1979 and had released some 40 records in his homeland by 1982. This 1998 disc is a snapshot of the guy, but it's not much fun as Christmas music unless you know who he is. This is because he rewrites the lyrics of all the familiar tunes on here to make them self-referential, as in "Yellowman Is Coming To Town" or "Children Saw Mommy Kissing Yellowman." The lowlight in this regard is a halfhearted cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" that he "improves" in this manner without bothering to get the right chords for it. If you're down with the guy, be my guest, but most folks might be better served by somebody else's reggae Christmas music.
taxixmas.jpgReggae fiends recognize the genre's premiere rhythm section, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and producers going forward from the 70s and 80s, and Taxi is their imprint. They bring together a bunch of folks like The Tamlins, Nadine, Beres Hammond, Karen Smith and Junior Trinity Brammer to get right with the holiday. This gives a 1991 copyright date, but I'm guessing it's a little older than that. The album kicks off with a 22-minute medley of carols including "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "I Saw Mammy Kissing Santa Claus," "Little Drummer Boy," "Rudolph," "Mary's Boy Child," "Sleigh Ride, "Deck the Halls," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Everybody Loves Christmas," which is just toasting over "Jingle Bells." The Tamllins cover Wham's "Last Christmas," the Jackson Five's "Give Love on Christmas Day" with those 80s synth orchestra hits for rhythm and a swinging "White Christmas." Beres Hammond does a lilting "Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The sound of the whole CD taken together is a little samey-samey despite the varied cast of characters, but this will keep the party going.

Natty and Nice, Various Artists (Rhino)

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natty.gifAnother Caribbean Christmas compilation, this one's from Rhino, the acknowledged leader in the field of holiday compilations. Selections included in this 1998 album cover 30 years' worth of music, from the ska era of the 60s to the ska era of the '90s. Oh, yeah, with reggae in between, of course. Famous names rub elbows with the less well-known, from Lee Perry and Toots & The Maytals to John Holt, the Trojans, Frankie Paul and Heavy Beat Crew. Gotta love the idea that "Santa Claus Is Skaing To Town" with the Granville Williams Orchestra and Bolivar's "Rudolf The Reggae Reindeer," and Holt reggaes up John and Yoko's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Can't have too much reggae and ska for Christmas, can we? This is way the hell out of print, as the third-party sale prices at Amazon will underline for you.
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