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Navidad al Estilo Reggaeton, Boricua Boys & DJ Mattox (Madacy)

Not having any reggaeton Christmas on hand, I grabbed this out of the $6 bin just to see what's up. I know nothing of these artists, and the label's website was no help, but this is certainly plenty of holiday fun. My Spanish is plenty rusty, but I'm pretty sure the opening cut, "Los Peces en el Rio" means "the fish in the river." Oops, just checked Google and I'm not only right, but this is a classic Spanish carol, as is "Campana Sobre Campana." "Blanca Navidad" is a sprightly "White Christmas," "Aire de Pascuas" is a version of "Deck the Halls," "El Tamborilero" is "Little Drummer Boy, and the rest of the songs are listed by their English titles, except of course for the Jose Feliciano "Feliz Navidad." The whole affair feels a bit low budget, but as it's my first reggaeton Christmas CD I'm going to let it slide in that regard.

Joe Gibbs Reggae Christmas, Joe Gibbs Family of Artists (VP Records)

I first encountered this record back about 1983 in a Jamaican bodega in Toronto's Kensington Market. (Wikipedia has this as a 1979 original release.) I managed to get a couple of cuts from it onto my holiday mix tapes before the sucker warped like a Lay's potato chip. It took until 2007 for it to be reissued in the digital realm, on CD and as a downloadable album. It remains as good as I remembered it, heavier-sounding than the vintage reggae Christmas albums from Trojan that are endlessly reissued. The centerpiece of the album is a pair of 11-minute carol medleys, which might be a bit much for disc mixers but they no doubt go whizzing by when you're passing the dutchie on the left-hand side for the whole time. Beres Hammond is featured on "Winter Wonderland" and Horace Andy is credited on "O Little Town of Bethlehem." They also work out on the "12 Days of Christmas," get a little clavinet action going on "We Three Kings" and go a bit uptempo on what appears to be the album's only original, "Let X-mas Catch You In a Good Mood." This might sound a little sedate to those used to today's hip-hop flavored varieties of reggae and reggaeton, but it never hurts to get back to the roots.

Trojan Christmas Box Set, various artists (Sanctuary/Trojan)

The folks at Sanctuary have been busy beavers since they acquired the rights to the Trojan catalog; if you have a full-service record store near you, you've probably seen a couple dozen different box sets from Trojan in your reggae section. Naturally, there had to be one dedicated to Christmas reggae, and this 2003 collection is it. There aren't a lot of surprises here, though; a fair proportion of the 50 songs on this three-CD set have already been mentioned elsewhere on this site, an indication that these songs have been compiled and re-compiled over the years. "Santa Claus Is Ska-ing to Town" by the Granville Williams Orchestra, for example, turns up pretty often. Still, fans will recognize a lot of folks on here, like Desmond Dekker and the Aces, Eek-A-Mouse, The Ethiopians and Lee "Scratch" Perry, not to mention The Maytals, presumably including Toots. The collection fills itself out in part by giving several artists multiple entries, among them Yellowman, John Holt, Jacob Miller and Ray I and The Tamlins. This set stands out because of its informative liner notes, which place the recordings between the mid-60s and late 70s and give some background to the individual artists. Like previous compilations, the recording quality of individual songs is all over the map, although it sounds as if it has been remastered, at least to my ears. If you don't have a lot of reggae Christmas music, this might just fill that hole in your collection.

Reggae Christmas, various artists (Sanctuary/Trojan)

Here's another collection of 1960s reggae/ska Christmas tunes from 2001. Fewer than half of the tunes on this collection are classic carols, the rest are originals. There are no liner notes and no evidence of this CD's existence at the labels' websites, so I'm guessing these tunes were recorded in the 60s and possibly early 70s. An initial tip on this CD suggested some tunes were recently recorded, but I don't buy that. Anyway, there is some fairly entertaining stuff here. "Christmas Time Again" by Rueben Anderson, with its vibes and R&B rhythm, has the feeling of an American soul record of the Sixties. "Jingle Bells" by Studio Three is a more traditional Caribbean beat, "Christmas Parade" by Rupie Edwards wafts along on the then-emerging reggae beat, and the Granville Williams Orchestra asserts that "Santa Claus Is Ska-ing To Town." Alton Ellis and the Lipsticks kick off "Merry Merry Christmas" by arguing about the rent, Neville Willoughby whistles about "Christmas in J.A.," Desmond Dekker and the Aces do "Christmas Day" as a slow soul ballad, and you hear bits of dub technique on Johnny Clarke's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," followed by the real thing when the Aggrovators take off on the exact same recording. John Holt reggaes up "Blue Christmas" real nice, but "White Christmas" by Jackie Edwards is a cheesy attempt at the Irving Berlin classic. It's a bit of a stretch to say that you'll want to hear all 21 tunes together, as the recording quality of a lot of these tunes was chintzy even for the time, but there are enough hits here that you won't mind the misses.

Natty & Nice - Various Artists (Rhino)

Another Caribbean Christmas compilation, this one's from Rhino, the acknowledged leader in the field of holiday compilations. Selections included here 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?

Sly & Robbie Presents Taxi X'mas, various artists (Taxi/Ras)

Reggae fiends recognize the genre's premiere rhythm section, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and producers 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.

A Reggae Christmas, various artists (Ras)

From 1988, this is a fairly straightforward grouping of artists from the Ras label doing Christmas songs. It's all classics and no originals, but there are a few imaginative takes on things. Eek-A-Mouse's "The Night Before Christmas," for example, uses the melody of "We Three Kings" to tell the popular story, and Peter Broggs deconstructs "Twelve Days of Christmas" into something a little more appropriate to the Jamaican worldview, complete with "roots and seeds." "Drummer Boy" is turned into a toasting vehicle by Michigan and Smiley, and all the artists on the record combine for the opener "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," contributing original lyrics to the familiar song. Freddie McGregor does an interesting take of "Feliz Navidad," although his "Come All Ye Faithful," along with "Jingle Bells" by Don Carlos and Glenice Spenser and "Joy to the World" by June Lodge, all have that "hypnotic" beat thing going, which can make them seem to drag. A short album, but not without its highlights.

Reggae Christmas From Studio One, various artists (Heartbeat)

The compilation is from 1992, but it's certain these performances are from the 1960s, the time when ska evolved into reggae. Among the artists are "The Wailers featuring Bob Marley," before the billing was turned around, along with The Heptones, Freddie McGregor, Alton Ellis, Tennessee Brown and the Silvertones and others. Most are traditional Christmas songs, but there are originals like "High Fashion Christmas," "Christmas Stylee," "Christmas in Jamaica" and "Irie Christmas." The sound quality is dated and the original tunes aren't that interesting, but the performances are good, and the album is a great capsule of musical history in the making.

Happy Christmas, Boney M (Ariola)

This reggae-tinged Europop group was one of the biggest acts in Britain and Europe during the late 70s and early 80s, and they managed to notch one top 40 hit in the U.S., their cover of the Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon." The act was created by German record producer Frank Farian when he needed a group for live performances of a minor hit called "Baby Do You Wanna Bump." Farian is better known, or more notorious if you prefer, for creating Milli Vanilli. Anyway, they had a European hit with "Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord," paving the way for this 1981 album. The hit is the best thing here, although you might enjoy the "Ob-La-Di" flavored version of "Feliz Navidad," the synthpop "First Noel," or a reggae take on "White Christmas." A possible follow-up could be their own original "Zion's Daughter," riding on a rock/calypso lilt, or their Europop original "I'll Be Home For Christmas," not to be confused with the popular one. Like the version of "Little Drummer Boy" that opens the CD, however, the rest of the album is a mix of classic tunes and originals in undistinguished arrangements. My budget German reissue of it is almost worth having just for the promotion page inside the CD booklet for other albums you might like, including one by "David Hassel Hoff."

The Reggae Christmas Hits Album, John Holt (Trojan)

I first heard of John Holt from an early ska album entitled 1,000 Volts of Holt. Here on this 1986 album, he takes on a number of Christmas pop-rock standards, reggae style, and the results are good, though a bit monochromatic to listen to all the way through. He performs ELP's "I Believe in Father Christmas," the Lennons' "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," Chris de Burgh's "A Spaceman Came Traveling," Wham's "Last Christmas," the ever-popular "Blue Christmas" and a Chinn-Chapman tune called "Lonely This Christmas," originally performed by British teeny-bop band Mud. Strangely, there's a Slade tune called "My Oh My" that has nothing to do with Christmas; considering that group had a holiday tune called "Merry Xmas Everybody," it's an odd choice for this CD. "Auld Lang Syne" closes the album.

A Very, Very Yellow Christmas, Yellowman (Ras)

Reggae 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 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.

Christmas Reggae Rock, Carlene Davis (VP Records)

Another 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.

Dancehall Christmas, various artists (Rohit)

Another compilation of reggae Christmas tunes with sketchy liner notes, this 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.

Reggae Christmas, various artists (Tassa)

From 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.


Eras: The Beginning, The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Genres: Reggae, Soul/R&B, Rap, Blues, Punk, Surfin' Xmas, Tropical

Novelties: Fifties and Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Compilations: Regular Comps, Charity Comps, Soundtracks

Special Reports: Recent Releases, Hanukkah, Miscellaneous