A week or so ago, a Critic Crony wondered whether we'd ever done a Fab Five of Christmas recordings. This Crony even offered up a few suggestions.
The answer was no, although we did do a sort of Crony-inspired music gift guide a few years back, and that included some Christmas music gems. But it's a dramatic step to slap the "Fab Five" title on just any old list (yes, that's mock self-importance), so we spent a little bit of time researching the idea.
We decided we liked it, but in delving into it, discovered that there was too much good holiday music (I know what you're thinking - and yes, we've been listening to the radio all month), we needed a way to cut down the list to five. So we opted for records that we felt were found somewhat off the beaten path - i.e. as good as Mannheim Steamroller, Johnny Mathis, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Perry Como are, to re-hash stuff you've all heard seemed counter-productive.
So, herewith we offer our "Fab Five" of Christmas recordings, still in time to track one or two down for your listening pleasure before the season ends.
We open with one of our Crony's picks: "Trace Bundy - you remember him, of course: he of the 6-gazillion capos. Best bet is to start here. There are songs samples of most of the things on the albums. I just received my copy of the 9-song "O Night Divine," and it's really quite good. The artwork is all stained glass windows, and a nativity scene inside; plus, there's a really nice piece to end the liner notes: '...and mosty God the great companion and creator. Please remember why we celebrate Christmas; it was not Santa that was born over 2000 years ago.'
We go next to acoustic-pop singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, and his story-musical "Behold the Lamb of God." Lotsa religious stuff in here, so for those looking for lighter fare should look elsewhere. But the music i so well done, the songs so well crafted, it was too much to leave off the list.
Speaking of lighter fare: The market offers plenty of choices when it comes to crooner Christmas music, but for The Beat, one stands large. Mel Torme recorded with Keith Lockhart and the Cincinnati Sinfonietta in 1991; the record is called "Christmas Songs," playing off the Christmas classic Torme himself penned. Great arrangements and one of the all-time great voices.
Master guitarist Phil Keaggy and the London Session Orchestra's "Majesty and Wonder: An Instrumental Christmas," is a record The Beat has always felt is overlooked. For those whose holiday music love is reserved for Mannheim Steamroller and for the old Windham Hill and Narada holiday records, this is one you will want to ad to your collection. We're not sure if it's still in print, but we did find a listing on Amazon.
Surf/Tex-Mex rockers Los Straitjackets have a totally fun Christmas record called "'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets". When the opening riff of "La Bamba" turns into "Feliz Navidad," you know you've stumbled into genius. Enjoy.