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Recently in Compilations Category

santafunk3.jpgAs much as I'm a sucker for old-school soul records, you'd think I would have known about this series of albums based on flea-market rescues of seriously obscure soul Christmas records before this. So I'm indebted to friend of the site Sean Delany, who broke his skein of painstakingly compiled and art-directed holiday mix discs in 2015 because he was busy curating this third collection in the series for Tramp Records. Sean's detailed liner notes indicate that at least some of these records were vanity releases, on a level with all those indie punk rock singles that never got beyond 1,000 copies and were probably only heard regionally in their day. Cleveland Robinson's "Xmas Time Is Here Again," for example, was released on Nosnibor Records, and you don't need to be a fan of word games to work out how the label got its name. Despite the low-budget origins of these songs and the herculean effort to make decent quality reproductions of these ancient vinyl artifacts, there's enthusiasm and spirit in all these recordings. My favorites are "Dear Santa" by Syng McGowan & the Fanettes, "Sock It To 'Em Santa" by Joe Shinall, "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Sam Sweetsinger Bell, the smoking instrumental "Santa Soul" by Rocki Lane and The Gross Group, the synth-bass-led funk workouts "Black (Soul) Christmas" by Timi Terrific & the Redheads and "Disco Claus" by The Bionic I, and the almost garage-soul "Santa's New Bag" by Rudi and the Rain Dearz. Definitely the best historical collection I've encountered this year, even if the Grammy Award voters haven't seen fit to nominate it.

Motown Christmas, various artists (Motown)

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motown2014.jpg
There's a long-running compilation going back to the vinyl age with this title, but don't confuse it with this 2014 collection, which is comprised of music from the label's current roster (except for a bonus track of the Temptations' "Silent Night"). Kevin Ross kicks things off with "It's Christmas Time," a nice midtempo song that effortlessly blends modern rhythms with the signature old-school Motown orchestral backing sound. Brian Courtney Wilson does the near-obligatory cover of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Anita Wilson medleys "Go Tell It On the Mountain" with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Kem reprises "Bethlehem" from his own Christmas album, as does Babyface with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Chrisette Michele slow-jams "Angels We Have Heard on High," and Tye Tribbett emphasizes bass and strings over drums on "Little Drummer Boy." Tasha Cobbs brings a bit of updated doo-wop into "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)" and goes all Broadway musical on "O Come All Ye Faithful." Vashawn Mitchell brings a bit of bombast to "Silent Night," Smokie Norful does a dramatic reading of "O Holy Night" and India.Arie duets with Gene Moore Jr. on a similarly dramatic "Mary Did You Know." Two orchestral instrumental interludes round out the album. While a lot of us have expectations of the old days when the word "Motown" is used in a musical context that may not be satisfied with this album, fans of modern r'nb will likely be more than happy with what they hear in this collection.
eclectic.jpgThis CD benefits the inner-city mentorship program MOSTE. More dance/house/trance holiday music from 2003, bracketed by three versions of "Snowflakes Falling" remixed by JT Donaldson, Juan Atkins and Ming & FS, which are used to mark the three "movements" of the album. "Jingle Bell Hop" kicks off with the song being played on a phone's touchpad, leading into a funked-up rhythm track and percussive orchestra hits. "Midnight" by Daz-I-Kue with vocalist Rasiyah deconstructs "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" into a jazz melody over percolating beats, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Platonic is anchored by a violin melody, while speedy beats and whooshes underpin DJ Motiv8's version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." "We Three Kings" by Josh One vamps over a sample of the song by Cool John Ferguson, a jazzy organ air over a funky handclapping beat. And there's a good old fashioned dub version of "Silent Night" by Ein, a style updated to the modern day. I freely admit it can be tough to tell multiple albums of this stuff apart, but many folks would enjoy having some of this style of music for the holidays, especially anyplace where dancing is on the card.

In the Christmas Groove, various artists (Strut)

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xmasgroo.jpgOld-school soul music is beloved of so many folks that it's hard to believe there's much in the way of anything from that era that hasn't found its way into the marketplace. And yet, the good folks at Strut Records tell us they have unearthed a bunch of obscure gems, all soul and funk, all Christmas-oriented. Not being a collector's scene expert, I'll let their claim stand, though the comments are available for those who have something to add on the topic. I will say the only people on this album I even recognize are bluesman Jimmy Reed and the Harlem Children's Choir. The 13 tunes on this collection are all from the 60s and 70s, and it doesn't take a recording expert to tell these tunes were put down quite a while ago. I won't claim these are indispensable classics, but they sure are fun to listen to. Electric Jungle's "Funky Funky Christmas" has a bit of War's "Me and Baby Brother" in it, and "Let's Get It Together For Christmas" by the Harvey Averne Band has quite the slinky beat itself. "Gettin' Down For X-mas" by Milly and Silly (really!) features wah-wah rhythm guitar of a kind that might remind you of porn soundtracks if not for the Christmas melodies played on bells. The Soul Saints Orchestra come to tell us that "Santa's Got a Bag of Soul," in an arrangement that wouldn't sound out of place on a James Brown disc. The Funk Machine imagines a "Soul Santa" "with black kinky hair," while J.D. McDonald tells us about "Boogaloo Santa Claus." The Jimmy Reed tune, "Christmas Present Blues," is a take on the funky blues, and the Harlem Children's Choir offers a ballad, "Black Christmas," about a holiday among the poor. The album doubles up on New Year's bonuses with Jimmy Jules going all Barry White on "New Year," followed by The Black On White Affair doing a big band jam on "Auld Lang Syne." All told, an interesting collection for those who like to delve into pop music history. You may want the physical disc, as I downloaded this only to discover I did myself out of what are supposed to be extensive liner notes.
xmasbaby.jpgThis is a 2008 re-release of a 2006 EP with additional songs from the roster of this gospel and R'nB label. I'm just catching up to it this year, and well, this sucker just makes me smile. It's old-school soul music of the 60s variety, less like Motown and more like Stax. I got a little confused trying to identify the title song, as there are two versions of "It's Christmas" by Rick Lawson and O.B. Buchana, but the real title song is "It's Christmas Baby" by Ms. Jody, more of a big-band blues number in which we are invited to jingle the singer's bells. Yeah, we get a lot of those single-entendres here, but that's a feature, not a bug. Just check out "I Need a Man Down My Chimney" by Barbara Carr, Sheba Potts-Wright on "I Need a Lover For Christmas," or the return of Ms. Jody on "Humping Santa," the latter set to an Al Green beat. Lee Shot Williams also has only one thing on his mind when he sings "I Ate Too Much Over the Holidays." If a soul Christmas gets your Yule log burning (now there's a double-entendre), you need this collection.
stax.jpgThere are no dates for the performances on this 1989 compilation, but I'm guessing they are all from the late 60s and early 70s. Little Johnny Taylor does "Please Come Home for Christmas," Rance Allen Group takes on "White Christmas," The Temprees do "The Christmas Song" and Albert King tries "Christmas Comes but Once a Year." There are some originals, too. Isaac Hayes (Chef!) does his Hot Buttered Soul routine on "The Mistletoe and Me" and "Winter Snow," Rufus Thomas comes up with an answer record to Eartha Kitt, "I'll Be Your Santa, Baby," and Albert King and Mack Rice each do versions of Rice's great "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'." And the Staple Singers' "Who Took the Merry out of Christmas" is here too; it also appears on the album Bummed Out Christmas. Almost as good as Soul Christmas. Update: Reissued for 2007 as Christmas in Soulsville with three additional songs, "That Makes Christmas Baby" by Rufus Thomas, "Merry Christmas Baby" by Otis Redding, and Booker T & the MGs' "Winter Wonderland."
soulful.jpgThis is a pretty solid collection of modern R'nB from the early 80s ("Christmas in Hollis" by Run D.M.C., the only rap tune on the CD) up through the present day. Fans probably have a lot of these tunes, but if you're short on latter-day soul you might find this 2004 collection a sweet change of pace. Among the selections are "Happy Holidays to You" by New Edition, "Snowy Nights" by En Vogue, "Let It Snow" by Boyz II Men, "Comin' For X-Mas" by Usher, "Do You Hear What I Hear" by Whitney Houston, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Babyface, and we get gospel from Kirk Franklin, Bebe and Cece Winans, along with appearances by Dru Hill, Yolanda Adams, TLC and Xscape.

gumbo.jpgParty town New Orleans (pace Katrina) is always a good place to go for your holiday grooves, and this 2004 compilation carries on the tradition. Songwriter/producers Greg Barnhill and Will Robinson (not the "Lost In Space" kid) had the idea to write a whole CD's worth of fresh Christmas tunes and then recruit some hometown talent to perform them. So we get Beausoleil and their trademark zydeco on "Papa St. Nick," the legendary Allen Toussaint doing a Fats Domino groove on "The Day It Snows On Christmas," Art Neville of the famous Brothers on the title song, brother Aaron showing off his balladeer chops on "Christmas Prayer," Irma Thomas taking it slow on "Christmas Without the Creole," and the Subdudes singing about "Peace in the World." John Hiatt fans will recognize Sonny Landreth's guitar chops, if not his voice, on "Got To Get You Under My Tree," with the help of the Dixie Cups on background vocals. And just in case you thought there was anything dated about a New Orleans Christmas, Houseman funks things up on "Pimp My Sleigh," taking off on the car customizing trend. The final cut is the only tune not written by Barnhill and Robinson, Ingrid Lucia's version of "Zat You, Santa Claus?" Serious holiday party music here, folks.

Soul Christmas, various artists (Atco)

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soulxmas.jpgAn early collection compiled in 1968 by Atlantic Records from singles and Christmas albums recorded by its R&B roster, including the folks from Stax Records, which was distributed by Atlantic at the time. Most of the tunes are covers, Otis Redding being Otis on "White Christmas" and "Merry Christmas Baby," Booker T. and the MGs ringing out with "Silver Bells" and "Jingle Bells," King Curtis wailing on "The Christmas Song" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." But there are some originals, like Solomon Burke doing "Presents For Christmas," William Bell with "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," Clarence Carter with "Back Door Santa," Joe Tex promising "I'll Make Every Day Christmas (For My Woman)" and Carla Thomas reprising her hit "Gee Whiz" as "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas." A top-notch collection. In recent years, it's been reissued in its original version on CD and in an extended version by Rhino Records, adding several cuts including Luther Vandross with "May Christmas Bring You Happiness" and The Drifters' version of "The Christmas Song."

chrismot.jpgThis 1993 German import is another collection of the famous Motown artists, only this one is heavy on items that are previously unreleased. This includes the only four known Christmas tunes by Marvin Gaye, including "Purple Snowflakes," with lots of carol quotes, although the track was later reused on "Pretty Little Baby." The other three are the collection's title song, an instrumental from 1972, his own "I Want To Come Home For Christmas" and a rendition of "The Christmas Song." A pair by Stevie Wonder, the unreleased "Everyone's a Kid at Christmas Time" and what must have once been on a single, "The Miracles of Christmas." Unreleased from Diana Ross and the Supremes are "Won't Be Long Before Christmas," "Silent Night" with Florence Ballard singing lead and "Just a Lonely Christmas" by Harvey Fuqua. Diana Ross solos Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" sometime between 1974 and '78. The Miracles contribute "Christmas Lullaby," which was released in its time. Kim Weston's "Wish You a Merry Christmas" and session aces The Funk Brothers' instrumental "Winter Wonderland" round out the set. This isn't easily found, but at least some of these cuts have turned up on other Motown holiday albums since this import dropped.

motown.jpgMotown, being a factory label, put out Christmas albums on practically every one of its classic artists of the 60s, and Motown being Motown, a lot of times the backing tracks got recycled from artist to artist. For the best view of a Motown Christmas, an anthology album like this one is the best bet. Some of the renditions here are a little too serious to suit me, but there are quite a few original Christmas tunes with the Motown treatment, making a collection like this worthwhile. Stevie Wonder is the class of this outfit with "One Little Christmas Tree" and "What Christmas Means To Me." Also represented here are Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Jackson 5. The 1999 reissue of this album features among its additional cuts "I Want To Come Home For Christmas," one of the Marvin Gaye holiday cuts that seldom turn up anywhere. Note that there are numerous Motown holiday anthologies out there, and the songs on this one are certain to turn up on at least some of the others.

motown2.jpgAfter years of perfunctory Motown reissues, the newly aggressive Universal conglomerate has set the dogs loose to take better advantage of its assets. In 1999 the first volume of this set was upgraded, and this 2001 sequel offers samples of many great Motown artists and throws in some unissued cuts for sweetener. Three cuts by The Supremes include "O Holy Night" with Florence Ballard on lead; two cuts by the Jackson 5; three more by the Temptations; two by Marvin Gaye, "Purple Snowflakes" and a live at the Apollo "The Christmas Song"; the Miracles, Kim Weston, the Funk Brothers; and the Twistin' Kings with "Xmas Twist," which has a lick very much like "Peppermint Twist." There's also a bonus cut of spoken word Christmas greetings from a parade of Motown artists. Motown compilations have sprouted over the years like topsy, so watch you're not buying the same cuts over and over again on different discs.

chess.jpgThis compilation of Christmas songs covers 1959 to 1969 with artists on the famous Chicago blues label Chess and its various subsidiaries, featuring Chuck Berry's double-sided triumph of "Run Rudolph Run" and "Merry Christmas Baby." Jazz, gospel and soul are also represented with the O'Jays, Ramsey Lewis Trio, Rotary Connection, Salem Travelers, Soul Stirrers, the Moonglows and the Meditation Singers. Good mix of originals and traditional tunes, and great performances. I'm pretty sure this record originally appeared on vinyl in the 1970s and was issued on CD around 1989 with all the original artwork intact.

This compilation was recorded in 1990 to showcase New Orleans musicians at a time when Storyville was becoming noticed by the major labels, never mind that New Orleans music has been a big part of rock 'n roll and jazz all through history. The overall effect of the project is to deliver the kind of "New Orleans music" a big-name producer would create for a Hollywood movie set there. The musicians are recognizable New Orleans names like Dr. John, Allan Toussaint, Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas and Pete Fountain, but the production tends to make them sound more mainstream than the title of the album would suggest. But there are some good moments here: Rockin' Dopsie and the Zydeco Twisters do a Cajun "Jingle Bells," Luther Kent's "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is arranged like a big 60s soul show-stopper, and the Zion Harmonizers stick close to their gospel roots with "Go Tell It on the Mountain." And does Dr. John, heard here on "Merry Christmas Baby," ever cut a bad side? On the other hand, Aaron Neville's "The Christmas Song" is more like his second career as an MOR balladeer and less like his Neville Brothers roots, and the other tunes are well done but not particularly distinguishable as "Creole music." Your call.

Special Gift, various artists (Island)

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specgift.jpgThis 1996 compilation is exactly what I was talking about in the Statement of Purpose when I mentioned rhythm and blues. It's a perfectly listenable compilation of Christmas tunes in that genre, but there's very little of that rockin' spirit in it -- until the last two cuts, anyway, Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'" from 1980 and "Christmas Time is Party Time" by Luke -- you know, formerly 2 Live Crew's Luke. The latter one has some strategically placed scratchin' to cover up some very Luke-like expletives, but I imagine the original version is on one of Luke's albums. The rest of the album is well-performed modern R&B, alternating between ballads and midtempo numbers by Angela Winbush, The Isley Brothers, Dru Hill, an instrumental "Silent Night" by Ronny Jordan and the Island Inspirational All Stars on "Don't Give Up," which doesn't even really tie into Christmas from a lyrical standpoint. Good if you're primarily interested in that kind of music, but kind of slow going for everyone else -- unless you absolutely can't find "Christmas Rappin'" anywhere else.
deathrow.jpgNames like Snoop Doggy Dogg suggest a rap album, but this 1996 CD only has a few rap tunes. Snoop kicks off with his take on "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto," no relation to the James Brown number, and Operation From the Bottom revisits the theme with "Christmas in the Ghetto." The only other rap tune is Tha Dogg Pound's "I Wish." Danny Boy emotes on "Peaceful Christmas," Nate Dogg sings "Be Thankful," Sean Barney Thomas does "Party 4 Da Homies," and covers of the standards "Silver Bells," "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," "White Christmas," and a few others are all straight 90s rhythm 'n blues arrangements. Danny Boy also covers Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" and Guess takes on Smokey Robinson's "Christmas Everyday," sneaking in a sample of the original along the way. For the most part, this is a pretty straight R&B Christmas album, so if you were expecting mostly rap, be advised, especially since this album does carry a Parental Advisory tag.

State of the art rhythm and blues circa 2001 is the deal here, mostly of the slow jams variety, with artists from the Epic stable. There are a lot of nice moments here, although I'm not one to listen to the whole 52 minutes in one shot, as there isn't a lot of variation in sound and style; mid-tempo is as up-tempo as it gets here. Macy Grey's "Winter Wonderland," available elsewhere, is my favorite of the songs here. Brad Young does an imaginative reworking of Beethoven's "Joyful Joyful," Jordan Brown really stretches out on "Silent Night," Glenn Lewis is good on Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," and Jhene updates the lyrics on her modern take of "Santa Baby" to take in baby blue SUVs and Rolexes. And Sarai raps through "Here Comes Christmas." For fans of modern R&B, this will go down smooth.

Bummed Out Christmas, various artists (Rhino)

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bummed.jpgAnother of the great Rhino Christmas compilations, this one tracks the dark side of the holiday. Look at the titles: "Christmas in Jail," "Christmas Spirit??" and "Don't Believe in Christmas" (those two comprising the single from the Wailers and Sonics album mentioned elsewhere), "Santa Got a DWI," and this obscure Everly Brothers classic, "Christmas Eve Can Kill You." There's also "Christmas in Viet Nam" and the Staples Singers demanding to know "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?" Possibly the apex of this collection is "Who Say There Ain't No Santa Claus" by Ron Holden and the Thunderbirds, in which the singer starts out by celebrating the big insurance settlement he got from his wife's death and ends up in the chair after being convicted of her murder. Bummed out Christmas, indeed.

Christmas Past, various artists (Westside)

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chrispas.jpgAnother troll through the vaults, this one makes a point of noting it got this collection from the back room at the now-defunct Roulette Records. Some of these items are no surprise, as they've turned up on numerous collections. Others are a little more rare. Jim Backus of Mr. Magoo fame and Howard Morris, the once and future Ernest T. Bass, have novelty records here, Backus giving us "Why Don't You Go Home for Christmas," an anti-wife song, and Morris with both sides of his "Department Store Santa Claus" single. The Cadillacs' arrangement of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is the one the Smithereens adapted for their version, the Marcels' "Merry Twist-Mas" is joined by a less-well known item, "Don't Cry for Me This Christmas," and Pearl Bailey and the Orioles contribute a pair of carols each. Little Eva joins with Big Dee Irwin for "I Wish You a Merry Christmas" and the Harmony Grits -- former members of the original Drifters -- do "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The liner notes don't shrink from criticism; a Vietnam exploitation record by Derrick Roberts gets the note-writer's raspberry (deserved.) A pretty good collection for the oldies fan, with three New Year's songs, including Jo Ann Campbell's "Happy Happy New Year Baby," based on "Happy Happy Birthday Baby," not to mention "Merry Merry Christmas Baby." UPDATE: Yet another collection out of print and commanding high collector prices at this writing.

acexmas.jpgThis album is a real puzzlement. I'm guessing it was originally assembled sometime in the 60s, as I've seen vinyl versions of this for years, and it made the transition to CD at some point. It turns out that most -- but not all -- of it is the seminal 1962 Christmas album by Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns, still a holiday rocker par excellence. All 10 tunes from that album are on here. There are six others, and I'm hoping someone will be able to fill in the gaps in the ensuing rundown. "Christmas Finds Me Oh So Sad" is definitely Charles Brown, as it was one side of a 1960 single on the associated Teem Records. It's similar to "Please Come Home For Christmas," as it's the same melody and chords but different words. Another version of "Merry Christmas Baby" was the A-side, and the version on here sounds like Brown, but the lyrics are all different and the piano player vamps bits of "Jingle Bells" between verses. (UPDATE: It's him, see below.) "Shimmy Winter Wonderland" by The Swingin' Embers is on here too, a 1961 single. "Rappin' Before Christmas," a great talk-through of the old "Night Before Christmas" story, is by just the Clowns. UPDATE: Brian Zimmerman got hold of the full track list from what he believes is a Japanese import, adding "Weary Silent Night" by Earl King (not on the American copy), "Please Come Home For Christmas" and "A Lonely Christmas" by Bob Wagner and "White Christmas Blue" by Johnny Meyers. UPDATE: A variation of this album is sold as A Southern Christmas. And no version of this album is currently in print, though copies trade fairly expensively when they do turn up.
million.jpgThey mean it literally; these doo-wop Christmas songs collected for this 1997 album are all collector's items of some value. The book Merry Christmas Baby lists some of these tunes among the rarest Christmas songs on the market. Many of these tunes were mastered to CD directly from the cleanest vinyl copies the producers could find because in most cases, the original tapes simply don't exist. Some of these turn up on other compilations, like "Christmas in Jail" by the Youngsters and "Rockin' and Rollin' With Santa Claus" by the Hepsters, but a lot of these probably are making their CD debut here. Songs here range from The Robins' 1951 "Have a Merry Xmas" to "The Christmas Spirit" by The Motivations from 1970. The producers give the listener value for money too; there are 27 songs on this CD. I'm partial to "Santa Claus Baby" by The Voices, "Mambo Santa Mambo" by The Enchanters and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by The C. Quents, but you may have some other favorites. There are two New Year's tunes, "I'll Stay Home New Year's Eve" by The Creators and "New Year's Eve" by The Cameos.
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