Christmas Discs Add Holiday Cheer
Every year recording artists crank out new Christmas albums, as required by law, and every year people buy them by the truckload. Many, of course, aren't worth the plastic they're pressed from. Here's a short list of some you may actually find enjoyable.
Top o' the chart: Christmas Time with The Judds (RCA 6422-2-A). Mama Naomi and daughter Wynonna sing like angels, backed by an all-star cast of Nashville masters. An official Record To Die For, Christmas Time bears playing year-round. It's that good.
Further country for Christmas: Randy Travis' An Old Time Christmas (Warner Bros. 25972-2). A throwback to traditional country singers, Travis sounds wonderfully friendly and reassuring. He gives the impression of actually feeling the emotion in the songs---a rare talent in this cynical age.
Emmylou Harris shares that talent; her Light of the Stable (Warner Bros. 3484-2) is a warm addition to the holidays. Rounding out the country collection is Willie Nelson's Pretty Paper (Columbia CK 36189). If Santa Claus could sing, he'd sound like Willie.
Those who favor the classics will enjoy The Glorious Sound of Christmas (CBS MK 6369) by The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, with the Temple University Concert Choir under the direction of Robert Page. A big, big production. Christmas with Plßcido Domingo (CBS MK 37245) is another disc worthy of spinning off-season. Domingo is a powerful performer.
Music scholars will appreciate Music for Christmas (BBC 35D), a collection featuring French, Spanish, Polish, Finnish, Danish, German, and English choirs singing carols and religious works not widely performed in the States. Music for Christmas is normally available only through BBC Music magazine, but some record stores stock it. It's worth tracking down.
Of course, the holidays aren't complete without seeing at least one ballet performance of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. If you don't get a chance to do that, at least sit down and listen to Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra's recording of this glorious warhorse (CBS Masterworks MK 6621).
Jazzheads will get a kick out of A GRP Christmas Collection (GRP GRD-9574). This all-star recording includes performances by Gary Burton, Dianne Schuur, Lee Ritenour, Chick Corea, Mark Egan, Kevin Eubanks, and Dave Grusin. And you can't go wrong with Ella: Ms. Fitzgerald puts her unique spin on the season with Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (Verve 827 150-2).
The uncategorizable Paul Horn plays Christmas music for late in the night on The Peace Album (Kuckuck 11083-2)---the perfect accompaniment to a warm fire and a nice Cabernet.
Pop fans should enjoy Star Bright (Mercury 314 532 827-2), Vanessa Williams' Christmas treat. In a deeper vein: Christmas Interpretations (Motown 374 636 365-2). This is a fantastic recording by Boyz II Men. The quartet's almost-baroque harmonies and arrangements are astounding.
That thing you do: the Sisters Roche---Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre---go over the top with We Three Kings (MCA MCAD-10020): 24---count 'em---24 Christmas classics given the full Roches treatment. Prepare to be surprised and baffled.
Finally, it just wouldn't be Christmas without The King. Of rock'n'roll, that is. Don't neglect Elvis' Christmas Album (RCA Victor PCD1-5486). His contribution to the seasonal repertoire, "Blue Christmas," is featured here in all its glory, with some traditional tunes and four Gospel songs.
As the egg yolk said to the lemon juice, Happy Hollandaise.