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November 12, 2023

The Deep Roots Yuletide Baedeker 2023


Merry Christmas from Frank Sinatra. Behold the Chairman’s tinsel tree.

Necessity being the mother of invention, we are surmounting the problem of an overabundance of riches in Christmas content as published over the years in and in Deep Roots by offering seasonal travelers this annual Yuletide Baedeker, a guide to favorite features from Christmas issues past (dating to our launch year of 2008), all linked for easy access. As always, we appraise essential new and vintage holiday albums; In addition to the 2023 Picks (always a work in progress, as we add to the picks as the season unfolds), we offer what we believe to be the single largest archive of Yuletide album reviews, So far we’ve singled out new holiday efforts by David Ian and his Vintage Christmas Trio; the George Gee Swing Orchestra; and the new EP by double-Grammy-nominated jazz singer Samara Joy.  Scroll down to the 2023 Picks for links to all reviews.

Unique to Deep Roots, we offer “The Yuletide Report From the Chairman of the Board,” a critical appraisal of Frank Sinatra’s Christmas recordings considered as a unique body of work that went far in legitimizing Christmas music as a serious artistic pursuit. This year’s edition features yet another revised and updated appraisal in light of new information that’s surfaced about the Christmas sessions as well as the release of a new double-CD collections, Ultimate Christmas, offering an overview of The Chairman’s Yuletide outpourings spanning 1948 to 1994.

Not content to stop at album reviews, the Baedeker includes the “stories behind the stories” of some of the most beloved carols and songs; reviews of holiday DVDs and features devoted to animated Christmas classics of years past; Christmas fiction by Leo Tolstoy and Hans Christian Anderson; essays such as Charles Dickens’s “What Christmas Means As We Grow Older,” and the story of how in 1887 a young girl’s letter wondering if Santa Claus exists was answered in what has become, Yes, Virginia, one of the most famous newspaper editorials in history; great poetry inspired by the holiday season; and a revised and updated version of gospel editor Bob Marovich’s history of gospel music’s response to the Christmas season.

We’ve also added a new category, “Revised, Expanded & Updated Essentials,” to denote reviews that reflect new additions to an artist’s Christmas catalogue or new information that’s become available since the original reviews were published. Among the artists featured anew this year: Elvis Presley, Brian Setzer, Tony Bennett, Edie Adams and Doris Day (once two separate reviews now expanded and blended into one); Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters (in one expanded review); Nat King Cole; Anonymous 4 (which includes an interview with Marsha Genensky); The Ventures, et al.

The “stocking stuffers” here, if you will, range from the tender Christmas Eve monologue proffered by The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden; Louis Armstrong’s priceless reading of “The Night Before Christmas”; a great scene from the 1984 film version of A Christmas Carol between Marley’s Ghost (Ralph Finlay in a star turn) and Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott); and Maya Angelou’s enduring contribution to the season, “Amazing Peace—A Christmas Poem.” We believe these chestnuts capture fundamental truths about the season’s true spirit. As does, most certainly, a fetching Marilyn Monroe Christmas wish designed to heat up a cold winter night (look up!).

Returning from last year’s Baedeker and ready to assume status as a perennial feature: The stories of, respectively, the very first Christmas stamps—yes, stamps, as on letters and cards of yore—issued in the world (the first being a distinction held by Canada) and in the U.S.; and of the first self-adhesive stamp, which happened to be a Christmas 1974 issue by the USPS featuring an illustration of the weathervane from George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Self-adhesives had a rather tortured history—and in fact went out of print for 15 years until the USPS issued the 29-cent Eagle and Shield stamps in 1992. Thanks to our friends at the legendary Mystic Stamp Company in Connecticut for this invaluable historical contribution to our holiday overage.

Also take note of three new additions to the Baedeker lineup. One is an entire book of Christmas-themed poems, CHILDREN OF CHRISTMAS, by poet EDITH M. THOMAS, originally published in 1907. Though little known today, Ms. Thomas was highly acclaimed in her own time, when she was a regular contributor to Scribner’s, The Atlantic Monthly, The Century and other prominent periodicals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Upon her death in 1925 at age 71, the New York Times described her as “one of the most distinguished American poets.” Canadian poet Sir Charles G.D. Roberts went so far as to say her work “in some of its best characteristics recalls to me Shakespeare’s sonnets.” Her lone book of Christmas poems for children is, at various turns, charming, warm, loving and humorous, written not so much for children as about children and the season as seen through young eyes.

To our collection of “Stories Behind the Songs” we’ve added the rich histories of two beloved sacred carols: “Once in Royal David’s City” charts the course of the tune from a text penned in 1848 by Cecil Frances Alexander to its lofty position today as a globally beloved processional hymn; in “Coventry Carol: The Darkest of All Christmas Songs,” Helen Brown of Financial Times charts the odyssey of a song dating from 1534 and originally performed as part of a medieval mystery play, when it appeared as a maternal lament sung from the perspective of women soothing their babies, soon to be slaughtered as decreed by King Herod. The Protestant monarchy eventually banned mystery plays but actor/manager Robert Coo saved the text in a prompt book, and it survived to become popular with the general public as a result of a Christmas BBC broadcast from the ruins of munitions factories in Coventry, England, following the Nazi’s Coventry blitz air raid that killed 550 people and destroyed 43,000 homes along with the medieval cathedral.

The feature we’re most proud of immediately follows this introduction: Our Christmas Best to You. Its source is an audio holiday greeting, circa late ‘80s, sent to members of the press, by Bonneville Media Communications in Salt Lake City, Utah. It came in the form of a 28-minute cassette tape documenting the efforts of a male caller phoning around in a Quixotic effort to collect—for his “true love”—all the items enumerated in the beloved English Christmas carol “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Having done our research and checked it twice–nay thrice–in an effort to confirm the identities of the dramatis personae appearing on the tape, we’ve pieced together the most complete account of who’s who and what’s what with respect to this unique offering that is otherwise lost to history. It’s also quite likely Deep Roots is the only place in the cotton-pickin’ world where you can hear “Our Christmas Best to You.” Click on the link below and prepare to be moved in unexpected ways.

Click on the links provided throughout the Baedeker listings and the joys of the season will be yours.

Without further ado…on Dancer, on Prancer…!



In the late ‘80s the Salt Lake City, Utah, firm then called Bonneville Media Communications sent out a holiday greeting to members of the press only. It was a cassette tape, some 28 minutes in length, titled OUR CHRISTMAS BEST TO YOU. Herein an actor named Don Richmond (or Richman) calls around trying to gather up, for his “true love,” all the presents mentioned in the song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” The results of those calls are quite amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious, but never insulting or profane—this isn’t Jerky Boys material. The good humor of (most of) those on the receiving end of the calls is a big part of why Richmond’s quest is so engaging. That the tape is both heartwarming and heart tugging, however, has much to do with the interspersed interviews with a charming group of young tykes (whose descriptions of Santa Claus’s appearance is one of many sweet moments made all the more memorable by being so disarming) and notably with department store Santa Tony Zucca, who tells a poignant anecdote about a visit from sad child, whose despair was rooted in a recent tragedy. Taken aback, Zucca quickly regrouped and, in a flash of inspiration, offered the lad a bit of wisdom for the ages. The humility in Zucca’s retelling never fails to choke us up, all these years and innumerable playbacks later. Follow this link to Our Christmas Best to You.


 You know somethin’, sweetheart? Christmas is, well, it’s about the best time of the whole year. You walk down the streets, even for weeks before Christmas comes, and there’s lights hanging up, green ones, and red ones, sometimes there’s snow. And everybody’s hustling some place. But they don’t hustle around Christmas time like they usually do. Y’know, they’re a little more friendlier; they bump into you, they laugh and say ‘Pardon me’ and ‘Merry Christmas.’ Especially when it gets real close to Christmas night. Everybody’s walkin’ home, you can hardly hear a sound. Bells are ringin’, kids are singin’, snow is comin’ down. And boy what a pleasure it is to think that you got some place to go to, and the place that you’re going to has somebody in it that you really love…someone you’re nuts about. Merry Christmas.’

(Ralph Kramden reflecting on the Yuletide, from The Honeymooners’ Christmas episode, ‘‘Twas The Night Before Christmas,’’ December 24, 1955)


‘Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,’ cried the phantom, ‘not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!’

‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’

(Charles Dickens, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ published on December 19, 1843; the above video clip is from the 1984 made-for-television adaptation directed by Clive Donner and starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. Frank Finlay has a star turn as Marley’s ghost offering his old partner one last chance at redemption.)



At his home in Astoria, Queens, New York on February 26, 1971, Louis Armstrong made what proved to be his final recording, a recitation of Clement Moore’s classic poem ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ later issued as a single by the Lorillard Tobacco Company. Two weeks following this session he suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care until May 5, when he insisted on going home. On July 5 he announced he was ready to perform again and requested his band convene for rehearsal. He passed away at 5:30 the next morning, July 6, 1971. This clip also includes the single’s B side, a raucous live version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” with Pops blowing a frantic horn and strutting through the lyrics as only this master interpreter could.



By Maya Angelou

Read by the poet at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree at the White House on December 1, 2005, Maya Angelou’s celebration of the ‘Glad Season’ is at once a radiant affirmation of the goodness of life and a beautiful holiday gift for people of all faiths. Beautiful and moving, Ms. Angelou’s words inspire us to embrace the peace and promise of Christmas, so that hope and love may once again light up our holidays and the world.


Two Seasonal Classics from O. Henry

‘The Gift of the Magi’

‘One dollar and eighty-seven cents. … And the next day would be Christmas.’

‘The Gift of the Magi,’ from O. Henry’s Full House (1952), starring Farley Granger and Jeanne Crain, directed by Henry King from a screenplay by Walter Bullock. Film introduced by John Steinbeck. On Christmas Eve, with little money, Della sells her hair to buy her husband Jim a watch fob. Jim has sold his watch to buy her a pair of ornamental combs. When they exchange these now useless gifts, they realize how deep is their love for one another. YouTube commenter Ehsaas Mehta observed: “This is the only story which reflects the meaning of love. It really reminded me of how we all have lost the true meaning of love. This story shall always remind us of how love is based on sacrifice.’


‘The Cop and The Anthem’

‘Come home, O sinner, come home…’

‘The Cop and The Anthem,’ from O. Henry’s Full. House (1952), directed by Henry Koster from a screenplay by Lamar Trotti, starring Charles Laughton, Marilyn Monroe and David Wayne. As winter approaches, a vagrant decides it’s time for his annual winter spell in prison. But no matter how many petty crimes he indulges in–including eating in an expensive restaurant when flat broke, only to be literally tossed out rather than arrested–he fails to get himself hauled off to the comforts of a prison cell. One of his escapades was to accost a young lady window-shopping in the hope she’d report his advances to a policeman glowering nearby. Instead she turned out to be a hooker, played in a one-minute role by a rising young star named Marilyn Monroe. Laughton’s fellow tramp in this beautiful blend of comedy and pathos is played by David Wayne. As for Laughton, he gives a towering performance culminating in his character being transformed by a visit to a church service (where the unseen choir is singing the hymn of invitation, “Softy and Tenderly,” written by Will L. Thompson in 1880) and deciding to change his ways and make something of himself. In true O. Henry style, it doesn’t quite work out as planned.


From the youthful longing of ‘White Christmas’ in 1944 to the mature serenity of ‘Silent Night’ in 1991–and everything in between in those 47 years–Sinatra revealed the Christmas song in all its beauty and complexity as no artist before or since his time. The season is richer for his telling its story, the music more meaningful for generations yet unborn that will hear what he wrought and, one hopes, appreciate the richness of the experience it describes.


By David McGee

Bing Crosby popularized secular Christmas music, and then some, with his 1942 recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ (later re-recorded in 1947 in the version most often heard today). However, it fell to Bing’s buddy Frank Sinatra to make an art form of Christmas music, sacred and secular alike. The producers-arrangers-conductors who helped him shape this art, and what he brought to it on his own, are the subjects of this definitive appraisal of the Chairman’s magnificent Christmas outpourings. Updated and revised for 2023 with new session details and a look at the latest Sinatra Christmas collection, the laudable double-CD set, Ultimate Christmas. This link will take you to the 2020 Deep Roots update of the original essay published in the December 2008 issue of


They are the children of all who walk the Earth, unseen

Ignorance and Want: the second of the three spirits enlighten Scrooge. From the 1984 production of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott.



By David McGee

The music of Vince Guaraldi has been a vital part of the Peanuts television specials since the first broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965. Two years before, the San Francisco-based jazz pianist had won a Grammy for “Cast Your Fate To the Wind,” an instrumental recorded with his trio. The record, featuring Guaraldi with drummer Colin Bailey and bassist Monty Budwig, went gold and was the first hit for Fantasy Records. When Lee Mendelson was working on his documentary about Schulz in 1963 and heard “Cast Your Fate To the Wind” in his car, he was mesmerized: “It was a sound like I’d never heard before,” he said. “It was jazz, but it was melodic and open and came like a breeze off the bay.” He immediately commissioned Guaraldi to write music for the documentary, and although the show didn’t get sold to a network, Fantasy Records released Guaraldi’s soundtrack, Jazz Impressions of ‘A Boy Named Charlie Brown.’ When Mendelson set out to produce A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, Guaraldi was brought in to rework some of the themes from the documentary and create a new soundtrack for the television special. A Charlie Brown Christmas went platinum (sold one million copies) in 1997 and remains one of the top-selling holiday albums every year. This excerpt from A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition, the definitive account of the most popular of all holiday TV specials, penned by executive producer Lee Mendelson, offers an inside look at Guaraldi at his most creative, fashioning the sublime, swinging score that would make him a household name and a part of millions of lives every year upon the annual airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Originally published as a 50th Anniversary salute in the 2014 Christmas edition of; updated for Deep Roots in 2019. Follow this link to the full feature, “Sublime & Swingin’, in Deep Roots.




New! BOOK: CHILDREN OF CHRISTMAS, by EDITH M. THOMASOf Edith M. Thomas the biographical dictionary Notable American Women says “she drew her principal literary inspiration from the lyrics of John Keats. She was a classic poet in her prosodic regularity and in her continuing attention to Greek subjects. She was romantic in her emphasis on the self, although an aura of sentiment and pathos kept her from developing a constructive romantic position…. She was one of the first poets to capture successfully the excitement (the ‘ardent bulbs’) of the modern city, and one of the most consistent in crying out against the inroads of the dollar sign on American culture.” Among her many books was a single volume of poems inspired by the Christmas season. Published in 1907 by Gorham Press in Boston, THE CHILDREN OF CHRISTMAS is a charming collection of Yuletide poetry, warm and intimate, with a global sweep, reflecting rites and rituals of the season as experience both here and abroad. Follow this link to the full book, Children of Christmas. Share its wonders with your own little folk.

LISA BIALES, At Christmas (Big Song Music)— There are many good things to report about Lisa Biales’s first holiday album. For starters, her voice—a warm, sturdy, a bit flirty instrument right at home with blues, swing and folk, and somewhat reminiscent of the young Maria Muldaur, not only in timbre but in its assured attitude—is supported by a most empathetic and tasteful combo of veterans including the redoubtable Tony Braunagel (who not only produced but sits in on drums, percussions, background vocals and jingle bells); Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and background vocals; Jeff Paris on piano, Hammond organ, glockenspiel and background vocals; Chuck Beghofer and David J. Carpenter on bass; a horn section comprised of Mark Pender on trumpet, Jerry Vivino on sax, Joe Sublett on tenor sax, and Garrett Smith on trombone. Doug Hamilton adds violin and Michael G. Ronstadt is on cello. Maxayn Lewis rounds out the background chorus. Follow this link to the full review, “A Yuletide Evergreen Grows Here,” in Deep Roots.

BIG HARP GEORGE, Big Harp George Does Christmas (Blues Mountain Records)— Coming up hard on the convivial, rocking side of the season, Bay Area blues stalwart Big Harp George (George Bisharat) doesn’t have much truck with the seasonal standards (although he does blow a mean chromatic harp interpolation of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” in the opening track, “Bad Santa”) but is definitely in tune with the merry and bright side of things in a rather unconventional way. The aforementioned “Bad Santa,” for instance, kicks off the festivities in a hard swinging way behind George’s harp, Kid Anderson’s rocking guitar solo and some pumping horns as George makes it clear Santa “ain’t welcome in my home,” thanks to the big man’s lusty ways. Follow this link to the full review, “Dig the Unconventional Yule,” in Deep Roots.


BRASS BAND OF BATTLE CREEK, A Christmas Festival (MSR Classics)— The inventiveness of the BBBC is an aural feast. Trombones, bass trombones, euphoniums, trumpets and percussion comprise the Christmas Festival lineup on an engaging 10-track program of mostly familiar sacred and secular fare, with the lone departure from the canon being a cool five-minute Motown-style workout on, appropriately, “Motown Jingle Bells,” a carol medley modeled on and interpolating some of the label’s signature recordings. This offering, arranged for the BBBC by Sam Pilafian, a distinguished professor of tuba and euphonium at Arizona State University, may have been inspired by the tack the Ventures took on their great Christmas album; that is, having a familiar pop melody morph into a Christmas tune, as the BBBC does in segueing from “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” into “Jingle Bells,” with trumpeter Rex Richardson, the lead voice on this track, dazzling the ears with a furious sortie into his instrument’s upper range. Follow this link to the full review, “Being About an Aural Feast at Yuletide,” in Deep Roots.

GEORGE GEE SWING ORCHESTRA, Winter Wonderland (– If David Ian’s new Vintage Christmas Trio offering (Melody) represents the reflective side of holiday music, then the George Gee Swing Orchestra’s Winter Wonderland gets the party started. Mr. Gee, a Chinese-American artist born in New York City, has been leading swing bands for some 35 years in and around the city and for many years, pre-pandemic, was the toast of Lindy dancers at Manhattan’s Swing 46 club. He broke in with a 17-piece swing orchestra in the ‘90s, and these days, and on this album, works with a nonet and vocalist (John Dokes on five numbers, one a duet with Hilary Gardner). In many ways this long player evokes the spirit of the Salsoul Orchestra’s classic 1976 holiday stocking stuff, Christmas Jollies, especially on the title track, which kicks off the album at a breakneck pace, remaking the sprightly tune into a rollicking outing with a Latin touch (hence the altered title, “Winter Wonderland Mambo”)… Follow this link to the full review, “And a Wonderland It Is,” in Deep Roots.

WHEREIN VINTAGE BECOMES TIMELESS, David Ian (Prescott Records)—David Ian and his Vintage Christmas Trio are back with Melody, the group’s fourth captivating collection of jazz-oriented interpretations of beloved Christmas carols and songs. Ian’s journey has taken him from his early fame as a hotshot guitarist in several top Toronto bands—notably in Superchick, with a Grammy-nominated album in 2008—to widespread acclaim as a jazz pianist in the vein of Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi in leading his trio over the course of a quartet of Christmas-themed projects beginning with 2011’s Vintage Christmas. Herein, a look at the Vintage Christmas Trio’s entire body of work with a special focus on the latest entry, Melody. Follow this link to “Vintage and Timeless”

SAMARA JOY, A Joyful Holiday (Verve)–Believe every positive thing you’ve ready about Samara Joy. The 23-year-old double Grammy winning vocalist is the toast of the jazz vocal world, and with good reason. Listen to the deep, husky tone and the airy, sensitive flights into the upper register, and try not to be moved by a real singer digging deep into her very being to bring the fullest emotional experience to every note she blesses with her remarkable voice. The voice is on vivid display on a new six-song EP, A Joyful Holiday, featuring Ms. Joy and the same four-piece combo heard on the double-Grammy-nominated Linger Awhile album; in fact, a press release announcing the EP refers to A Joyful Holiday as “an extension” of Linger Awhile. Santa Claus came early this year, delivering the quintessential gifts that truly keep on giving and, moreover, will likely keep Christmas well for a long time to come. Follow this link to the full review, “The Holidays, With Ease,” in Deep Roots.

MAVERICKS, Hey! Merry Christmas! (Mono Mundo Recordings), review by BILLY ALTMAN— When it was first released in 2018, the Mavericks’ Hey! Merry Christmas! was a quietly received but nonetheless welcomed addition to the sizeable body of holiday-themed music albums, and one of the neatest things about it was the fact that group leader Raul Malo decided to go all in on the project by himself composing all but two of the collection’s ten songs. Considering how just how many cool Yule tunes have come down the chimney over the years, that’s not a particularly easy challenge to give yourself as a songwriter or performer. Still, as longtime Mavericks fans can well attest, and as per the title of his band’s best-known album, 1995’s Music for All Occasions, if there’s something to sing about, Raul Malo is one vocalist who can certainly do it. Follow this link to Billy Altman’s review of Hey! Merry Christmas! In Deep Roots.

JOHN PAUL MCGEE, A Gospejazzical Christmas (Jazz Urbane)— In the first new recording we’ve heard from Dr. John Paul McGee, Ph.D., since his acclaimed 2022 release, Gospejazzical Vol. 1, the gifted pianist-songwriter-producer-vocal arranger currently assistant chair of piano at the Berklee College of Music, offers his blend of gospel, jazz and classical—gospejazzical—in service to secular and sacred Christmas music, always with spectacular results. He proves himself a wonderful crooner in the “smoky gray” style of Nat King Cole with a tender, deliberate but bittersweet reading of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” wherein a lyric such as “all our troubles will be miles away” sounds more like wishful thinking than blessed reassurance, and those “faithful friends who are dear to us” don’t really seem so dear in the moment. Follow this link to the full review, “Tell It On the Mountain, Indeed,” in Deep Roots.


VARIOUS ARTISTS, Jingle All the Way (Blue Heart Records)— If you’re looking for a splendid multi-artist anthology of holiday music done to a T, check out the 15 choice tracks on Jingle All The Way featuring artists from the Blue Heart and Nola Blue labels. The songs are a mix of originals and vintage seasonal chestnuts and pretty much all the moods of the human experience are represented. Highlights? Try an exceedingly lovely, folkish take on Joni Mitchell’s “River” by the impressive Tiffany Pollack and Eric Johanson, with Ms. Pollack, who sounds uncannily like the young Joni at points, navigating the self-lacerating lyrics of love, loss and regret as if they were torn from her own experience. Croatian bluesman Tomislav Goluban injects a beloved hymn with a driving beat and his own sinewy, robust harp work and, voila! You have “Amazing Grace II.” A Crescent City flair with a rollicking second line animates a frisky, très engage reading of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps. Follow this link to the full review, a publishing two-fer with the Big Harp George review here…


2023 Stocking Stuffers

Topping off what has been a good year for the multi-generational Crandall Creek bluegrass band, the sextet gathered together recently to record a cheerful stocking stuffer for the 2024 holiday season. “It’s Christmastime,’ written by singer-songwriter-guitarist-vocalist Jerry Andrews, moves along at a sprightly pace fashioned by Andrews, Dustin Trepanning on banjo and mandolin, San Nelson on bass and Andrews and Roger Hard on guitars. Kathy Wigman Lesnock adds warm, affecting harmony vocals to the impressive Carly Greer’s lighthearted but heartfelt lead vocal. It’s inaccurate to say there’s no heavy message here, because the song’s theme of delighting in basic, life affirming pleasures of and friendships formed around Yuletide traditions might well be heard as an important, if not “heavy,” message. At any rate, “It’s Christmastime” is an engaging seasonal reflection on joys, past and present, common to this most wonderful time of the year. And then there’s the cool animated video accompanying the song.

Troy Engle is getting into the holiday spirit, too, with the release of a new holiday-oriented bluegrass single, “Frosty Pines,” a warm reminiscence about family, home, the winter wonderland and the allure and love for it all during the holiday season. Engle cites Bill Monroe’s holiday classic, “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’,” as the inspiration for his similarly bouncy, cheerful reminiscence on which the versatile Engle plays all the instruments. Engle co-wrote the tune his friend, Rick Lang, who happens to be an award winning songwriter and respected artist in his own right.

Follow this link to the Crandall Creek and Troy Engle Stocking Stuffers.




Marsha Genensky

ANONYMOUS 4, A-CAROLING THEY GO— The American a cappella quartet Anonymous 4 is hardly the only practitioner of medieval music, but thanks to their chart busting explorations of 18th and 19th Century American folk and gospel music, American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory (2004) and Gloryland (with fiddle, mandolin and guitar accompaniment by Mike Marshall and Darol Anger, 2006) Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Ruth Cunningham and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek have achieved a prominence outside the classical realm unrivaled by any of its classical contemporaries. As much as Anonymous 4 contributed to our understanding of early music, the quartet may well have provided its most valuable service in advancing our understanding of the earliest documented musical pieces honoring the Christmas celebration. Five albums’ worth of such explorations now grace the A4 catalogue. Speaking from her home in California (the other A4 members are based in and around New York City), Marsha Genensky discussed the process by which Anonymous 4 studied and assembled the music for its 2010 gem, The Cherry Tree Carol, as well as other aspects of its exploration of medieval music and culture, and what she calls A4’s “unity of intent” in arriving at its vocal arrangements of early music. This interview was first published in the December 2011 issue of Follow this link to the full interview, “A-Caroling They Go,” by David McGee in Deep Roots.


VINTAGE COOL YULE—Revised and updated for 2023 after appearing originally in, appraisals of the holiday outpourings of LOUIS ARMSTRONG (and Friends), BING CROSBY and THE ANDREWS SISTERS. Bing Crosby has been an indelible part of the Christmas experience since recording the original version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in 1942, and as the years pass Louis Armstrong pops up with increasing regularity on holiday playlists and collections, getting the most out of his meager but impressive Yuletide testimonials. For aficionados of Christmas music, a Yule without Der Bingle (especially when he teamed up with the Andrews Sisters) or Satchmo would be comparable to finding a lump of coal in the stocking on Christmas morn. Full review here.


ELVIS PRESLEY: The King Keeps Christmas WellIn his lifetime Elvis recorded only two Christmas albums: 1957’s Elvis’ Christmas Album, and 1971’s Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas. Over the years RCA Records has repackaged those two albums in a variety of configurations and employed modern recording technology to produce an album of the late Elvis singing holiday duets with the likes of Martina McBride and Wynonna Judd. First published in in 2011, “The King Keeps Christmas Well” assesses the King’s double-dip into secular and spiritual holiday music and appraises the best of the many repackaged titles. Follow this link to David McGee’s updated and revised version of “The King Keeps Christmas Well.”


CLASSIC BENNETT is CLASSIC CHRISTMAS: The Holiday Season Brings Out The Best In Tony That Tony Bennett’s Yuletide voice has not seeped into the culture to the degree as his buddy Frank Sinatra’s is a bit of a puzzlement, but the Chairman did have a big head start, given that his first Christmas recordings were made in the 1940s. Or maybe there’s only so much room at the top, even if you can deliver a “White Christmas” as poignantly as Bennett did in working with a sumptuous Robert Farnon arrangement (Farnon himself had some Sinatra sessions on his resume-he knew from crooners and belters alike) on his masterful 1968 holiday debut, Snowfall. In this 2023 revision of a review originally published in’s December 2011 issue, we take the measure of the entire body of Christmas art Tony Bennett created between 1968 and 2011. Follow this link to the full review.


The Christmas Song (1963)

NAT KING COLE: The Christmas Song, Like No Other Christmas SongChristmas is illegal without Nat King Cole, right? Surely it would violate the laws of nature and of this land for a season to pass without the reassuring tones of the man with the smoky grey voice blessing us with a comforting “Merry Christmas…to you,” his annual benediction reaffirming warm tidings of home, family and seasonal traditions, unsullied by cynicism, untouched by post-modern angst. No, Christmas is impossible to imagine without Nat King Cole gliding coolly through the classic sentiments penned by Robert Wells, set to music by Mel Tormé, beautifully orchestrated by Charles Grean and Nat’s favorite arranger Pete Rugulo, with Ralph Carmichael conducting, and further enhanced by Nat’s own succinct, tasty piano solo. “The Christmas Song” is, pure and simple, “The Christmas Song,” like no other Christmas song. Follow this link to the full review, “The Christmas Song, Like No Other Christmas Song” in Deep Roots.


LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS: Holiday Beauty for Doris and Edie by David McGeeOnly one Doris Day Christmas album exists, from 1964, and its title is as straightforward as her singing: The Doris Day Christmas Album. The folks at Collectors’ Choice, however, have included another nine tracks of Christmas fare, most from non-album singles sides, and put it all together on one CD as Complete Christmas Collection. It’s pretty amazing and pretty much beyond criticism—sure, you can hear her strain for a couple of fleeting moments when she tries to belt out a refrain, but she quickly reins it back in and makes a smooth, seamless transition back to the original melody line and to the vocal place where she thrives.

Sourced from acetates made from rare kinescopes of the Ernie Kovacs TV shows of the early to mid-‘50s, Edie Adams’s son, Josh Mills compiled a delightful collection of Yuletide songs his mother sang on the Kovacs show and issued it through Omnivore Recordings as The Edie Adams Christmas Album, featuring Ernie Kovacs (1952). Most of the songs are simply Edie solo, with only a piano backing her, giving the album the feel of either a rehearsal or a recital in its plain, unadorned offerings, some of them clearly done with no consideration of mic placement—no strings, no brass, no small combos, only an unidentified pianist who impresses with his witty, nimble excursions on Edie’s cheery rendering of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and the sensitivity of his reverent backing on “I Wonder As I Wander.” But it’s Edie’s show, and hearing her clear, bright voice again—so reminiscent of Doris Day’s–and being reminded of her savvy as a singer—a wonderful sense of phrasing and an acute ear for a song’s dynamics—makes this one of those Christmas albums worthy of being cued up periodically throughout the year. Full review here


THE MAN WITH ALL THE TOYS, The Brian Setzer Orchestra (Surfdog Records) (Updated and revised, 2023)—Brian Setzer, jingle bell rockin’ with his super-fine Orchestra, is one of a handful of artists with four Yuletide albums in his catalog. This review appraises the entire, and quite rich, Setzer holiday legacy: four studio albums, two best of-type anthologies and one of the great holiday concert DVDs, Christmas Extravaganza, available as a standalone disc and with Setzer’s Ultimate Christmas collection. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, if any man knows how to keep Christmas well, it is Brian Setzer. Read David McGee’s review, “The Man With All the Toys,” here.


THE VENTURES’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM (Dolton/Razor & Tie)— Originally released on the Dolton label in 1965, The Ventures’ Christmas Album is a true holiday treasure. The greatest of all rock ‘n’ roll instrumental groups (having sold more than 100 million records and still playing to enthusiastic audiences the world over), the Ventures were no strangers to the concept album, as their long players tended to focus songs around a single theme, starting with 1961’s The Colorful Ventures and including, by the time this Christmas outing appeared, The Ventures in Space (a collection of celestial wanderings, such as “Out of Limits,” “One Step Beyond,” “Twilight Zone,” “War of the Satellites”), The Ventures a Go-Go (dance tunes), Beach Party and Surfing (guess). Those are some great albums, showcasing the rock-solid rhythm section of Howie Johnson and, after Johnson was disabled in an auto accident, Mel Taylor on drums and Bob Bogle on bass, laying the foundation for the guitar wizardry of Don Wilson on rhythm and the virtuosic Nokie Edwards on lead. Follow this link to the full review, “A League of Their Own,” in Deep Roots.

2022 Christmas Stocking Stuffers

If anyone has reason to feel blessed and be thankful for simple gifts this year, it’s DARYL MOSLEY. The stout-voiced baritone, a two-time Songwriter of the Year winner, experienced the exultation of having his first chart topping hit (on Bluegrass Unlimited’s National Airplay Survey), ‘Transistor Radio,’ from his acclaimed sophomore album, Small Town Dreamer. Teaming with his long-time songwriting collaborator Rick Lang, Mosley now celebrates the holiday season with a nostalgic yearning for the simpler Yules of yore–sentimental but affecting in its sincerity and rustic simplicity, certain to tug heartstrings in the wake of 2022’s tumult. On the gospel side, ANTHONY FAULKNER kicks off the 2022 holiday season by releasing an uplifting original holiday song, “This Time of Year.” Follow this link to the 2022 Stocking Suffers. Be sure to check back in during the season for other new goodies hung by the chimney with care! Gospel giants THE WARDLAW BROTHERS join this year’s Stocking Stuffers with their new Christmas single, “Savior Reigns,” a song reflecting the brothers’ belief in the power of the Christmas story’s message. As Carl Wardlaw says: “Christmas is a moment to reflect and respect the reign of the Redeemer. To reign is to have sovereign rule over something or someone. Beloved, don’t let the harsh conditions and carelessness of this world reign in your life; rather, allow the sovereignty of the Blessed Savior to rule your every intention.”



4 CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ALBUMS PLUS: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas—Ella Fitzgerald (1960); Christmas Carousel—Peggy Lee (1960); Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs (1961); A Merry Christmas—Stan Kenton (1961); Joue Noël—Sidney Bechet (1958) Avid Jazz (2016 release)

ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS, Peggy Lee (Capitol, 2020 release)

Believe the hype. Avid Jazz came up with a real winner in its four-pack (plus) of truly classic early ’60s Christmas albums from a quartet of towering artists in jazz, pop, blues and swing, Fifty-one tracks in toto, with each artist in his or her prime, produced by some of the best names in the studio world, taking chances designed to energize the Yuletide carol canon and succeeding in grand fashion. These are not tossed-off performances; Ella, Miss Peggy, Charles Brown and West Coast iconoclastic band leader Stan Kenton think outside the box on their long players; recording in Paris with a tight, expressive combo when he was dying of lung cancer, the towering clarinet legend Sidney Bechet summoned all the technique and all the lyricism at his considerable command to create an endearing four-song holiday EP that is the “Plus” in this package. Follow this link to “In Praise of Those Who Keep Christmas Well” in Deep Roots.

WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS, The Seekers (Universal Import)/IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME, Judith Durham (Decca Records)– Of the many sad events and notable people lost in 2022, for music fans of a certain age, here and certainly in her native Australia, the death of The Seekers’ lead singer Judith Durham this past August was especially tough to absorb. One of her time’s great vocalists, Ms. Durham was a dignified, gifted communicator, trained as a youth in classical and jazz singing, whose ringing soprano was effective and affecting from its lowest range into the stratosphere when she took it there. Hers was a voice that wrapped around a listener’s heart and beckoned it on a journey to its most intimate places—places where words, as Wordsworth noted, “lie too deep for tears.” Herein we appraise THE SEEKERS‘ 2001 Christmas album, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and JUDITH DURHAM‘S first solo album, 1968’s For Christmas With Love, reissued with four additional tracks as It’s Christmas Time. Both are as essential as Christmas albums can be. Follow this link to the full review, “Somewhere There is Morningtown, Many Miles Away,” by David McGee.

CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK, New York City Children’s Choir at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, Mary Wanamaker Huff (Artistic Director), Andrew Henderson (Accompanist) (MSR Classics, 2020 release) Beauty of this magnitude will rarely be found in any season among choral ensembles, and it’s safe to say that the New York City Children’s Chorus has raised the bar exceedingly high on this, its second album (the first, Simple Gifts, was released in 2015). The Choir’s nine choral ensembles (80 voices total) are comprised of young people ages four through 18, “steeped in bel canto,” as the liner notes indicate, from the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church’s graded choral program. Guided by founder/artistic director Mary Wanamaker Huff, the NYCC, winners an American Prize in Choral Ensembles last year, has become one of the premier treble choirs in the world. On Christmas in New York, the advanced ensembles offer a performance for the ages, with those young voices so delicate, so clear, richly textured and emotionally resonant in the captivating arrangements on this 18-track program that concludes with the first chamber orchestra recordings of Randall Thompson’s beautiful four-movement The Place of the Best. Follow this link to the full review by David McGee, “Again the Heart With Rapture Glows,” in Deep Roots.

THE HOLLY & THE IVY: A SMALL GEM— For decades, fans of the 1952 holiday gem The Holly & The Ivy, directed by George More O’Ferrall from a script by the film’s producer, Anatole de Grunwald, and playwright Wynard Browne (from his like-titled 1950 stage play) and starring a cast comprised of top-tier British actors of the day, led by Ralph Richardson and Margaret Leighton, had no recourse but to wait for the British film’s seasonal TV airings. A VHS release in the ’80s came and went in record time. Until very recently, maybe three years ago, Region 1 DVD versions of the movie were non-existent. To the rescue came King Lorber (formerly Kino International) and the French film production/distribution company StudioCanal to issue the long-awaited Region 1 DVD complete with informed, insightful audio commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold–an outstanding package for fans and film buffs alike. In the absence of a home video version of the film, the Turner Classic Movies channel often programmed The Holly & The Ivy during the holiday season, but once the New Year rang in it disappeared until the next Yuletide rolled around. The drought has now ended. Follow this link to the review, “The Holly & The Ivy: A Small Gem” by David McGee, with additional commentary by film historian Jeremy Arnold.

CHRISTMAS WITH CHRIS RUGGIERO (– Chris Ruggiero is not a household name, but he’s on his way, via appearances on PBS specials and on concert stages near and far, and now we can chalk up the 23-year-old’s first Christmas album as another reason he’s going to be better known soon. The self-released Christmas With Chris Ruggiero comes out of nowhere to stand toe-to-toe with any major label established star contribution to the 2022 Yuletide season. Although he draws on pop and soul influences in this impressive 12-song holiday outpouring, to these ears Ruggiero’s pliable, tuneful tenor voice, and the arrangements surrounding it here, bespeak an artist deeply invested in group harmony and doo-wop. He can soar into the ether when necessary, his voice always remaining clear and plaintive, and when the tune demands it he can simply emote a tender lyric in a forthright but nuanced pop style. Underneath the singing, impressive in its own right, is something else that seems to escape too many contemporary “singers,” and that is pure, unadulterated heart—Ruggiero feels every note he sings in a palpable way, adding powerful subtext to the most ordinary phrases… Follow this link to the full review.

MY COLORFUL CHRISTMAS, Regina Belle (Tashi 3 Entertainment)– My Colorful Christmas, the first yuletide album from GRAMMY Awardee Regina Belle, and issued on her own imprint, Tashi3 Entertainment, traverses mostly familiar holiday fare. Traditional carols and more recently composed Christmas songs receive bubbly jazz and R&B arrangements tagged with improvisatory, and sometimes downright evangelistic, codas. Read the full review here.




FOOLS FOR THE YULE, Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet (HouseKat Records)— Building acclaim whenever and wherever it appears, the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet will surely add some more rave reviews to its clippings with its first holiday effort, Fools for Yule, on which the quartet’s strengths are in full flower. The result is a seasonal album worthy of regular rotation in any Yuletide fan’s collection. That the mood is easygoing throughout is indicative of the group’s command of tone and texture in being easy on the ears but also challenging on its own terms without diminishing the warm, cozy mood sustained throughout. … The most surprising wrinkle in the proceedings is tender, tightly harmonized rendition of “Silent Night” lent added beauty by an evocative solo break courtesy special guest Keith Carr on Irish bouzouki—a moment so totally unexpected but so rich in atmosphere as to set this version apart from all the standard renditions you’ve heard. Read the full review here.

CHANTS DE NOËL DU MONDE, Arsys Bourgogne, Pierre Cao (Conductor), (NaÏve) (2012 release)–From time to time a recording comes along that emphasizes the international character of much Christmas music. The French choir Arsys Bourgogne, which, since assembling in 1999, has made quite a name for itself spanning the globe in its programming. Conducted by the Luxembourg native Pierre Cao, the 32-member ensemble emerges in both holiday and international mode on Chants de Noël du Monde with a collection of sacred and secular Christmas music spanning six centuries and sung in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin, all performed a cappella. The 23 tracks include familiar carols like “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” “In Dulci Jubilo” and “Silent Night” (sung in English, French and German), as well as the spiritual “Go, Tell It On The Mountain” with a richly textured arrangement courtesy Scott Warren. There are also secular standards, from the spirited opening “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to a truly majestic “White Christmas,” the latter capturing a wealth of emotions from poignant to heartwarming. Read the full review here.


HOME FOR CHRISTMAS WITH JAN DALEY, Jan Daley (Log Records) If you’re going to title an album At Home With…, then you ought to make certain the music it presents exudes the warmth and intimacy you would expect of an artist working at home, even when you know the project was recorded in a real, fully outfitted professional facility that may be comfortable but face it, there’s no place like home. Which is a long way of saying Jan Daley went into Entourage studio in North Hollywood and made it feel like home in leading a tight, empathetic small combo through a baker’s dozen of familiar sacred and secular carols and songs that include her own “Can’t Give You Any Answers” and a wonderful Streisand-penned love letter to a newborn baby, “The Best Gift,” wherein Ms. Daley’s husky timbre sounds at time uncannily like that of Babs herself. The homespun feeling arises first and foremost in the comfort level Ms. Daley exudes—she’s making no demands of the songs but only of herself, to be a worthy messenger for their narratives. Not only is her stance straightforwardly sincere, it’s limned by a sense of awe and reverence for the season. No songs are tossed off or treated in a flighty manner—you sense she genuinely loves the season and the gifts it brings. Not physical gifts, mind you, but gifts that ennoble the spirit, speak of nature’s wonders and celebrate friends and family, evidenced at the album’s start when she opens with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” but tellingly adds the seldom heard verse before gliding into the familiar hopeful lyric and is bathed in strings. Read the full review, “Home is Where The Heart Is,” here.


OLD CHRISTMAS RETURN’D, The York Waits, withRobin Jeffrey (lute, guitar, cittern, theorbo) and Richard Wistreich (vocals) (Saydisc, 1992)— Subtitled “Christmas music and songs from past ages,” this scintillating 1992 release from the York Waits (a septet based in the walled city of York in northeast England; the band’s name is taken from the York city band of the 14th century), is a mixture of Christmas music and carols from primarily the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including seasonal-themed instrumental interludes. Composers such as Michael Praetorius, Thomas Ravenscroft, Josef Obrecht and Anthony Holborne are among the early music stars, if you will, represented in the program. The York Waits (present lineup: Antony Barton, Tim Bayley, Lizzie Gutteridge, Anna Marshal, Susan Marshall and William Marshall) are here joined by Robin Jeffrey and the robust-voiced vocalist Richard Wistreich, who has a number of memorable star turns. He opens the album in stentorian fashion with a severe “Gabriel from Heven-King,” the anonymous, oft-recorded 13th century sacred song given moving heft by the vocalist’s authoritative reading backed by delicate pipe and lute flourishes. He’s equally affecting when toning down his delivery to better frame the shifting seasonal images described in another familiar gem, the 17th century English ballad “Drive the cold winter away,” variously also known as “All Hail to the Days,” “In Praise of Christmas” and “The Praise of Christmas.” Read the full review here.


STRICTLY COOLSVILLE, Various Artists (Revised and updated, 2021)–Reviews of a trio of superb holiday anthologies first released in 2003 on the Shout Factory/Astrolux label all under the Wonderland rubric. These timeless contributions to seasonal music include: Wonderland: Yulesville—The Other Tinseltown (tunes by Leon Redbone, Julie London, Ann-Margret with Al Hirt, Duke Ellington, Claudine Longet, Louis Prima, Booker T. & the MG’s, Tiny Tim, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Marlowe Morris; Lionel Hampton, Four Piece Suit, the Randy Van Horne Singer and Holly Cole); Wonderland: Under the. Mistletoe—Reindeer & Romance (Lou Rawls, Dinah Washington, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Ann Hampton Calloway, John Pizzarelli, Kevin Mahogany; Steve Tyrell); and Wonderland: Cool December—A Warm and Fuzzy Winter (Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, John Pizzarelli, Frankie Carle, Marjorie Hughes, Doris Day, Pearl Bailey Hot Lips Page, Jo Stafford, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, René Marie). Seriously, there is not a bad cut to be found on these discs, and in terms of capturing the many moods of the Yule season, this collection simply cannot be beat. Originally published in as individual reviews, this 2021 revision consolidates, updates and expands the three reviews, while also featuring six engaging videos of tunes from the titles in question. Read the full review here.


 (Warner Reprise Records, 2008; revised and expanded, 2021)— Angels take wing in “Journey of the Angels.” Holly and mistletoe lend festive colors to “White Is In the Winter Night.” A bright ew star lights up the night in “Dreams Are More Precious.” Lovers nestle closely enough to hear other’s heartbeats on a snowy night in “Stars and Midnight Blue.”  In the bleak midwinter, the spirit of Christmas is something more pervasive than a single day on the calendar. Irish enchantress Enya has offered not a Christmas album, but rather an album-length meditation on the Yuletide season, its sound, its totems, its joys, its summons to reflection and introspection. Two specifically Christmas songs are a sort of binding thread—a sublime, stately and searching version of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and, 20 years after she first recorded it, “Silent Night,” sung in her native Gaeilge language and rendered as a stately, calming prayer at journey’s close—but otherwise this outing depicts Enya in a kind of winter wonderland viewed from her mind’s eye. And Winter Came… is one for this season, and for many seasons to come. Read the full review, “Timeless Enya,, For All Seasons,” here.


MERLE HAGGGARD: Making a Stand for Things That Matter (2021 revision)–Originally issued on Capitol in 1973 as Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present: Something Old, Something New, Merle Haggard’s Christmas album (co-produced by Ken Nelson and Fuzzy Owen, Hag’s A team behind the board) has only 10 cuts, but all have a special feeling about them. The world of 1973 wasn’t in nearly as bad a shape as it is now when Hag penned his devastating chronicle of a family on the edge of financial collapse, “If We Make It Through December,” but if ever a sentiment was appropriate for December 2011, with unemployment seeming intractable, and the economy at home and even more so abroad still staggering, it is this. The song was chilling enough back then, but now it seems eerily, unfortunately prescient—Hag saw it all coming. Masterful in all respects, Hag’s Yuletide gift makes a stand for the things that matter. Read the full review, “Hag Saw It All Coming,” here.


JUST IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS, Nancy Lamott (MIDDER Music Records)(2021 revision)–Nancy Lamott and beauty were on intimate terms. It radiated from her warm personality, resonated in her tender vocals, and suffused the recordings she made before succumbing to cancer in 1995 at age 43. Disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz declared Lamott the finest cabaret singer since the Chairman of the Board, praise well earned by Lamott and thoughtfully dispensed by Schwartz. Like Sinatra, Lamott sought out literate songs with a folksy quality–the settings may have been urbane, but the feelings were universal. The Great American Songbook has rarely had so effective an advocate as Nancy Lamott. Her lone Christmas album, Just In Time for Christmas, is a crash course in all that was remarkable about this gifted artist. Read the full review, “Suffused With Beauty,” here.


YOU’RE ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, The Persuasions (Bullseye Blues) (2023 revision)Given how fundamental the church has been to just about everything The Persuasions have sung in their long career, it’s rather amazing that it took this incomparable a cappella quintet until 1997 to get around to a Christmas album. But get around to it they did, and it’s everything you would expect of a Persuasions Christmas album in its beauty, its soulfulness, in the ethereal blending of the voices and in lead singer Jerry Lawson’s transcendent readings. There’s always a bit of mystery involved in a Persuasions record, given the fellows’ uncanny gift for finding unique ways into their songs. In this case, most of the songs are so familiar as to be daunting, it would seem, to those attempting any variations on the themes. But the Persuasions being an extraordinary group of a cappella practitioners, what they do with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Silent Night,” to name a couple of prime examples, is not like anything you’ve heard anyone else do with those songs, ever. Even so, it’s important to remember a fact borne out by the Persuasions’ history: they don’t try to make you forget the original, or most memorable, renderings of the songs they choose to investigate, but rather show you another side of those familiar evergreens, a different perspective in which their version enlarges the narrative, adding color, texture and even feelings that may be more subliminal or understated aspects of what you’re been used to hearing lo these many years. Read the full review, “In All Weathers, Glad Tidings,” here.

HOLIDAY MUSIC STOCKING STUFFERS, 2021—A tasty trio of holiday tunes released exclusively for the season. First up: “My Gingerbreak Man” by THE TWANGTOWN PARAMOURS (Mike T. Lewis and MaryBeth Zamer), who will get 2022 off to a fast start with a long-awaited and quite wonderful new album, Double Down on a Bad Thing,” described by Lewis as “a distinct departure from anything else we’ve done and by far my favorite project.” “My. Gingerbreak Man” is a swinging, sultry number that embraces the retro feel of the forthcoming album even as it captures a playful aspect of seasonal music, while allowing Ms. Zamer to show off some of the best pipes and interpretive singing chops extant. Next: “Solstice with the Mostest,” a delightful seasonal blowout courtesy the fun loving NINETEEN HAND HORSE, who ask“Who needs another holiday song when you can have yourself a SOLSTICE with the MOSTEST, my dear, to fill you with joy, peace, love, and oh, yeah, the last couple of crazy years?”  And certainly not least of all: TAYLOR RAE with a lovely vocal-and-guitar rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which serves as the gifted twenty-something artist’s musical Christmas card for 2021 following in the wake of her acclaimed \album, Mad TwentiesJoin the party here.


A tale in three parts: (1) How Canada came to be the first country to issue a Christmas stamp with its 1898 Queen Victoria-approved stamp honoring Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ. This was also the first Canada stamp to feature multiple colors. (2) The First U.S. Christmas Stamp—issued on November 1, 1962, starting a tradition that continues to this day. The series is now known as Contemporary Christmas with image and topics relating to our modern Christmas celebrations. In recent years the themes have expanded with the introductions of stamps honoring Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid and Diwali. (3) The 1975 Contemporary Christmas stamp featuring the image from an 1878 Christmas card, one of the earliest Christmas cards printed in the U.S.


Issued November 15, 1974, the first self-adhesive stamp in U.S. history carried an illustration of the weathervane from George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. It was considered an experiment at the time, and a failed one at that owing to flaws in the rubber-based adhesive used at that time. Using an acrylic-based adhesive, the USPS issued a new batch of self-adhesives on November 19, 1989 but public reaction was thumbs down. Undeterred, the Post Office tried again in 1990 and two years later issued the first nationally distributed self-adhesives since 1974. By 2002 almost all U.S. stamps were self-adhesive.


CHRISTMAS PICKS 2019-2020 (& etc.)

For this holiday season of the pandemic year 2020, we’ve assembled what might otherwise be headlined “Robert Hugill’s Holiday Hits.” Herein you’ll find a potpourri of Classical Christmas albums recommended by our Classical editor, Robert Hugill (a composer himself), in Deep Roots ranging from 2013 up to the present day. Although these albums are timeless, rendering their year of release irrelevant, it never hurts to be reminded of the bounty Mr. Hugill (who is best known—apart from his own work as a composer–for his acclaimed Classical website Planet Hugill–has discovered over time—including the King’s Singers’ instant classic, “Frosty Vs. Rudolph, The Re-Boot,” featured on the group’s Christmas Songbook album from 2016. Among the selections we’ve chosen from Planet Hugill’s annual Christmas CD roundups you’ll find several outstanding choral performances (Christmas With St. John’s, Christmas at Selwyn, Christmas from Worcester, all with abundant salutes to Sir David Willocks) along with other perspectives offered by the likes of the female vocal groups Papagena and the Juice Vocal Ensemble; a trip back to the Medieval carol heritage in The Secret Life of Carols: 800 Years of Christmas Music by The Telling, a female vocal and instrumental trio; A Spanish Nativity by stile antico; and the Georgian male voice choir Rustavi Choir along with the Mdzlevari Boys’ Choir performing composer-conductor Vakhtang Kakhidze‘s Christmas Trilogy with the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra. Herein experience and enjoy a terrific mix of reverence, history and playfulness in the Christmas outpourings from around the globe and across the centuries. Buon Natale!


A BLUER SHADE OF CHRISTMAS (BLUES, BLUES CHRISTMAS, VOLS. 1-3 + DEATH MIGHT BE YOUR SANTA CLAUS, 2005-2013) If you just want to go in far enough to say you’ve been there, Death Might Be Your Santa Claus is the winning ticket, albeit one with a narrow focus. For a more thorough immersion in seasonal fare of varying stripes—reverent, cynical, despairing, jubilant, uplifting and naughty-but-nice—from across the roots spectrum (many of them scintillating rarities that otherwise might have been lost to history), Document’s three Blues, Blues Christmas releases simply can’t be beat. These are as essential as Christmas music gets. Volumes 1 and 2 were released in 2005 and 2008, respectively, and lo and behold the U.K.-based label has presented us with a third entry in the series in 2013, and it is simply spectacular. Read the full review here.


THAT TIME OF YEAR, Kristin Korb (Storyville Records) & CHRISTMAS MORNING, Silent Winters (Fallen Tree Records) (2019 releases)– A couple of nice, tradition-oriented Yuletide albums are in the offing from artists beyond these shores but fully invested in the holiday spirit. Actually, Kristin Korb—that rarity of rarities, a jazz double-bassist/lead vocalist—is an expat American now residing in Denmark with her husband, Morton Stove, co-founder of the respected microphone manufacturer, DPA Microphones. The folk duo Silent Winters, on the other hand, hail from just beyond our U.S. borders, in Ottowa, Canada. Both albums feature a pleasing mix of holiday classics of yore and more recent contributions to the seasonal catalogue. Follow this link to the full review.


MOONLIGHT, MISTLETOE & YOU, Keb’ Mo’ (Concord Records, 2019 release) On the top new Christmas album of the 2019 season (and one of the Deep Roots Albums of the Year), Keb’ Mo’ delivers a blues-drenched gem in Moonlight, Mistletoe & You. Which is not to say Keb’ is getting lowdown and morose but rather using the blues as a platform for explaining why the spirits of the past, present and future strive within him and fully flower at Yuletide. He does so with small combo backing; lush, romantic strings and orchestra settings; and, on a couple of memorable occasions, a tight, spare trio setup. Bringing it all home vocally, he energizes the tunes with performances by turns warm and genial, moody yet uplifting—see, Keb’ always finds the silver lining in dire situations, as we learn most emphatically in his grinding take on St. Louis blues master Charley Jordan’s 1931 gem, “Santa Claus, Santa Claus,” an aching plea for the jolly old elf to “bring my baby back to me.” Read the full review, “Rise Above, Find More Peace, Make More Love,” here.


FIRST SNOW, Amber Weekes; ‘ROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE, Robert Prester & Adriana Samargia; VINTAGE YULETIDE FAVORITES, Paragon Ragtime OrchestraHere are three nifty items coming our way as Christmas approaches, each one reflecting a bit of a different approach to the Yuletide canon as well as offering something new and something blue(s) amidst the borrowings from yore. In The Gathering and First Snow, artists Amber Weekes and the duo of Robert Prester and Adriana Samargia, respectively, make a stand for intimacy: their arrangements are, by and large, on the spare side; vocalists Weekes and Samargia tend toward the soft and warm in their deliveries; and pianist Prester often drops hints of Guaraldi in his accompaniment and solos. The outlier, if you will, in this trifecta of releases is the venerable Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s often overlooked seasonal gem in, yes, a ragtime mode, ‘Round the Christmas Tree: Vintage Yuletide Favorites, issued in 2001 but ever so timely. Read the full review, “The Soft, The Warm, The Syncopated Yule,” here.


UNDER A MISTLETOE SKY, Tom Mason ( (2020 release)– No stranger to holiday music, Tom Mason returns to the fold with his third long playing entry, Under a Mistletoe Sky, a delightful addition to his seasonal catalogue, which began in 2003 with A Slide Guitar Christmas and continued in 2013 with A Pirate’s Christmas. Apparently, this album came about in early 2020 when the pandemic wiped out a UK tour with his band The Blue Buccaneers followed by the collapse of bookings here and abroad through the summer. What better way to pass the time, then, than to write and record some original songs for the coming Yuletide? Indeed, as a writer Mason blesses us with more than holly leaves and Christmas trees, as a few songs slip in overt references to social and cultural issues relevant to the national conversation of late. He keeps it jolly by keeping it edgy musically, bringing fierce energy to the original tunes via blues-rock, rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly templates. His husky vocals seal the deal by drawing you to his messages via a multi-pronged attack of forceful conviction, unalloyed swinging when appropriate, inspired musicianship supporting him and his outstanding new tunes. Follow this link to the full review.



Christmas Eve on the Rappahannock, Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863. Illustration by Thomas Nast.


For a nation torn by civil war, Christmas in the 1860s was observed with conflicting emotions. Nineteenth-century Americans embraced Christmas with all the Victorian trappings that had moved the holiday from the private and religious realm to a public celebration. Christmas cards were in vogue, carol singing was common in public venues, and greenery festooned communities north and south. Christmas trees stood in places of honor in many homes, and a mirthful poem about the jolly old elf who delivered toys to well-behaved children captivated Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

But Christmas also made the heartache for lost loved ones more acute. As the Civil War dragged on, deprivation replaced bounteous repasts and familiar faces were missing from the family dinner table. Soldiers used to “bringing in the tree” and caroling in church were instead scavenging for firewood and singing drinking songs around the campfire. And so the holiday celebration most associated with family and home was a contradiction. It was a joyful, sad, religious, boisterous, and subdued event. Follow this link to the full feature, “Ought It Not To Be a Merry Christmas?”




The modern Santa can best be described as the creative offspring of innumerable artists and cultures, which each put their own spin on a real-life person, St. Nicholas of Myra. St. Nick was a 4th century bishop and Christian saint who lived in the area now known as Turkey. He is renowned for his charitable gift giving, which is popularized in a story of three young women who were too poor to afford a dowry for their marriages. As each reached a marriageable age, Nicholas surreptitiously left a bag of gold in the house at night. Some versions of the legend say that the girls’ father, trying to discover their benefactor, kept watch on the third occasion, but Nicholas dropped the third bag down the chimney instead (and hence the tradition of Santa climbing down the chimney). Plus: A Bit O’ Tree Trivia. Follow this link to the full feature, “The Origin of Santa Claus,” in the December 2012 issue of



This piece was originally published in Punch, or The London Charivari, the beloved British weekly magazine of humor and satire established in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and engraver Ebenezer Landells. Historically, it was most influential in the 1840s and 1850s, when it helped to coin the term “cartoon” in its modern sense as a humorous illustration. It became a British institution, but after the 1940s, when its circulation peaked, it went into a long decline, closing in 1992. Revived in 1996, it closed again and for good in 2002. “How Mr. Chokepear Keeps a Merry Christmas” was published on December 25, 1841. Its message, much as that of Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” which would be published two years later, on December 19, 1843, is, unfortunately, ever timely, perhaps even more so in this era of growing income inequality, attacks on the rights of workers, women and minorities, and the diminishment of the middle class. Deep Roots offers it in hopes its words will speak to the better angels of our nature. Follow this link to the full feature in Deep Roots.


A HALF-CENTURY+ OF CLASSIC ANIMATED ‘RUDOLPH’: From a 50 Share to 50+ Years of Holiday Cheer

On Sunday afternoon of December 6, 1964, NBC broadcast the debut of a new Rankin/Bass Productions (Thundercats, Silverhawks, Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns) animated holiday tale based on the popular seasonal song by Johnny Marks, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as adapted from a poem by Robert May. It featured an animated Burl Ives in the narrator’s role, and employed a stop-motion technique with puppets, similar to George Pal’s Puppetoons, but which they promoted under the trademarked name “Animagic.” An instant holiday classic, Rudolph garnered a 50 share of the audience, a remarkable number especially in an era with fewer viewing choices than today’s TV. The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the TV special, and with it the arrival of a special Collector’s Edition DVD that is both the best of times and the worst of times.






What Americans hear when they listen to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is not anything like what the English peasants meant when they first sang this song more than 500 years ago. Best selling author Ace Collins has done his research and tracked down the meanings of words fundamentally altered over time, with the end result being a wholesale distortion of the song’s original message.


It is the common consensus that “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is among the most popular of carols. An early indication occurs in 1823 when antiquarian William Hone listed it as one of the 89 Christmas carols now annually printed. And he is not alone in his fondness for this carol. Twenty years later, Charles Dickens referenced the carol in his own ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Professor Wiliam Studwell, a modern authority on the origins of Christmas carols and hymns, identified ‘God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen’ as the Christmas carol of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and pointed out how Ebenezer Scrooge could have saved himself quite an adventurous night if only he had heeded the carol’s words when he first heard them. Herein, an examination of the Dickens connection to ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.’

‘Coventry Carol’: The Darkest of All Christmas Songs Sung from the perspective of women soothing their soon-to-be-slaughtered babies, the “Coventry Carol” is surely the darkest of all Christmas songs. First written down in 1534, this maternal lament was originally part of a medieval mystery play, performed annually in the city from the late 12th century until 1579. Mounted in June, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, The Shearmen and Tailors’ Pageant was a Nativity play retelling events from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents. Cut to November 1940, when the Nazi army launched the Coventry blitz 11-hour air raid that killed 430 people and destroyed 43,000 homes. In the aftermath BBC raido broadcast a service from the ruins and since then the carol has remained a somber standard, regularly recorded by choral groups and also taken up by an odd spattering of pop artists. Follow this link to the complete story of “Coventry Carol” odyssey from the medieval world to the modern age. Follow this link to the story of “Coventry Carol”’s centuries-long odyssey.



By Rev. Mark D. Roberts

Throughout Christian history people have been changing the music. And throughout Christian history others have been getting mad about it. When my church (or our hymnal) makes some small change, usually trying to update unfamiliar language, almost always a few people will complain. Usually they’ll say something like this: “Why did you change the lyrics? Why can’t we just sing the original ones?” Yet in many cases the very words that people think are the original ones turn out not to be original at all. There’s no better illustration of this truth than the carol ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.’


ONCE IN ROYAL DAVID’S CITY: HOW IT BECAME THE QUINTESSENTIAL PROCESSIONAL HYMN— One of the Christmas traditions celebrated by many persons in the English-speaking world is to tune in on Christmas Eve, either on radio or television, to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, originating from King’s College, Cambridge. This tradition began in 1918, was first broadcast in 1928, and is now heard by millions around the world. The author of this text, Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), was born in Dublin, Ireland, and began writing in verse from an early age. She became so adept that, by the age of 22, several of her hymn texts made it into the hymnbook of the Church of Ireland. Alexander [née Humphreys] married William Alexander, both a clergyman and a poet in his own right who later became the bishop of the Church of Ireland in Derry and later archbishop. Aside from her prolific hymn writing, Mrs. Alexander gave much of her life to charitable work and social causes, something rather rare for women of her day. Follow this link to the complete story of “Once in Royal David’s City.”




An appraisal and re-appraisal of the Harry Simeone Chorale’s woefully overlooked seasonal concept album, The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival, from which sprang the ubiquitous Yuletide classic single. A stirring achievement in and of itself, the album was released in 1958 and yet remains virtually unchallenged as a thoughtfully conceived, superbly executed mating of narrative and music. Apart from this, the song “The Little Drummer Boy” had quite an interesting journey of its own before Harry Simeone was introduced to it in 1958. In fact it dates back to 1941, when it came into being by way of American composer Katherine Kennicott Davis, who adapted the melody of an older Czech tune to lyrics she had written for a song she titled “Carol of the Drum.” The Trapp Family Singers—yes, of The Sound of Music fame—were the first to record it, in 1951; in 1957 the Jack Halloran Singers, recording for the Dot label, released an a cappella version of “Carol of the Drum” on their album Christmas Is A-Comin,’ but a projected single release of the tune never materialized.  Producer Henry Onorati, who worked on the Halloran Singers project, pitched the song to his friend and fellow arranger Harry Simeone, who hired many of the Halloran Singers, added finger cymbals to it and deleted a difficult passage just before the last phrase. The rest, as the saying goes, is history, and we take it all the way back to Katherine Kennicott Davis’s original creation.



When James Lord Pierpont of Medford, Massachusetts, sat down at the piano in Simpson’s Tavern—a boardinghouse where the town’s only piano was installed—and wrote a song he titled “One Horse Open Sleigh” in 1850, he wasn’t intending to give the world a jolly Christmas carol; in fact, in an undocumented but thus far irrefutable claim, scholars agree that the song was penned as a Thanksgiving treat for Pierpont’s father’s Sunday School class.



After Justin Wilde and his songwriting partner Doug Konecky had finished composing ‘It Must Have Been the Mistletoe,’ their dream of contributing a classic seasonal standard to the Christmas celebration met harsh reality: it was pitched and turned down some 376 times. Then BARBARA MANDRELL recorded it, and lo, dreams did come true.




“Do You Hear What I Hear?”, one of the few Christmas songs written after 1960 to become a true seasonal standard on a par with classics such as “White Christmas,” was the product of an interfaith couple’s mutual concern for the fate of the world during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. That listeners and critics often missed its true intent was an oversight that gnawed at the songwriters. ‘I am amazed that people can think they know the song–and not know it is a prayer for peace,’ said co-writer Noel Regney.




The story in song of Good King Wenceslas braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). During the journey, his Page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but by following the King’s footprints, step for step, he continued maneuvering through the deep snow. The legend is based on the life of the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907–935). Writing circa 1119, Cosmas of Prague describes the King’s transformative experience and exactly how he earned his regency—an explanation before the fact of how Wenceslas became the subject of a beloved Christmas carol written in 1835 by English hymn writer John Mason Neal and his music editor, Thomas Helmore.



The history of two beloved Yuletide carols, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High,’ which has its origins in 18th Century France, and ‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ based on a Christina Rossetti poem written before 1872, published in 1904 and set to Gustav Holst’s ‘Cranham’ in 1906.


By Dr. David Nelson

The words for the Christmas carol we know as ‘Silent Night’ were first set down on paper in 1816 in the tiny Alpine village of Mariapfarr, Austria, by Fr. Joseph Mohr. Two years later, music was added by Franz Xaver Guber and the song was performed for the first time in the Alpine village of Oberndorf, Austria, on Christmas Day, 1818. The fame of this composition spread throughout the world and 181 years later, people are still touched by both the simplicity and the strength of its message. In a five-part opus, Dr. David Nelson recounts the fascinating history behind the creation of ‘Silent Night’ and also uncovers Franz Gruber’s personal statement explaining the song’s origins.



You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen… But do you know the real-life tragedy that spurred ROBERT MAY to write a poem for his four-year-old daughter that became a cultural and multimedia phenomenon, especially after his brother-in-law JOHNNY MARKS turned it into a song? Rudolph, with his nose so bright, takes flight.




‘HOW INEXPRESSIBLY SAD ARE ALL HOLIDAYS’ describes how HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, reeling from the death of his wife by fire and the wounding of his son in the Civil War, composed a poem in which its author’s doubt of God’s existence is expunged by the message pealing from Yuletide bells. Herewith the true story of the events animating Longfellow’s agonizing verses and the text of the complete poem, including two stanzas directly referencing the horrors of the Civil War that were omitted in 1872 when John Baptiste Calkin arranged Longfellow’s verses into the seasonal classic expressing the triumph of good over evil in the world, ‘I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day.’ (Note: This page can be slow to load. We counsel patience.)


‘O HOLY NIGHT’ by Douglas D. AndersonOne of the most beautiful of all Christmas carols, “O Holy Night” was not an immediate success upon its debut in 1847. The lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau, an occasional poet and commissioner of wines in Roquemaure, France. It is said that Cappeau was about to embark upon a business trip to Paris when the local parish priest beseeched him to write a Christmas poem. On December 3, 1843, about halfway to Paris, Cappeau received the inspiration for the poem he titled “Minuit, Chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle” (“Midnight, Christian is the solemn hour”). According to William Studwell, upon arriving in Paris, Cappeau took the poem to the composer Adolphe Adam (1803-1856), an acquaintance of Cappeau’s friends, M. and Madam Laurey. Adam was at the peak of his career, having written his masterpiece, Giselle, only a few years before, in 1841. He was also the composer of over 80 stage works. Adam wrote the music in a few days, and the song received its premier at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve 1847 in Roquemaure. Notwithstanding its intrinsic beauty and initial success, the song was later attacked by churchmen in Cappeau’s native France. The song itself was not the problem; rather, the attacks were based on the dubious reputations of the lyricist and composer. Late in his life, Cappeau was described as a social radical, a freethinker, a socialist and a non-Christian. Indeed, he adopted some of the more extreme political and social views of his era, such as opposition to inequality, slavery, injustice, and other kinds of oppression. Fortunately, more rational perspectives have prevailed. By 1855, the carol had been published in London, and ihas now been translated into many languages. Douglas D. Anderson, who is responsible for the essential website The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, tells the whole tale, and includes addendums on the song’s unusual cameo in the Franco-Prussian War and concerning its first radio broadcast, in 1906.



by Forest Hairston

Songwriter FOREST HAIRSTON and his friend Marvin Gaye are credited as co-writers of ‘I Want To Come Home For Christmas,’ a song Gaye recorded in 1972 around the time he was working on his Trouble Man album. The song was supposed to be released as a Tamla single that year, but was withheld and did not see the light of day until 1990’s four-CD box set, The Marvin Gaye Collection. How the song came to be, what Marvin did with it, and its bittersweet aftermath are the focus of Hairston’s warm reminiscence.




By Charles Dickens

Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day, encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes complete.

And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that, pausing as we advance at such a noticeable milestone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and are gone, or have been and still are? If it be so, and so it seems to be, must we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream, and little worth the loves and strivings that we crowd into it?



In the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun, editor FRANCIS PHARCELLUS CHURCH responded to eight-year-old VIRGINIA O’HANLON’s (at left) query ‘Is there a Santa Claus’ with what became the most famous newspaper editorial in American history. Herein the complete Church response plus additional background on the dramatis personae, with illustrations and a video of the elderly Virginia O’Hanlon reading Mr. Church’s response to her query to a group of children.






A quintet of timeless, inspired, animated Christmas tales. The feature attractions are: A pair of vintage Walt Disney Silly SymphoniesSanta’s Workshop’ (from 1932, with a soundtrack featuring FRANZ SCHUBERT’s ‘March Militaire’; and ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ the 1933 sequel to ‘Santa’s Workshop’; ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (1944), the last cartoon ever produced by MAX FLEISCHER; a true oddity in ‘The Snow Man In July’ (1944). Created in Germany under the Nazi regime, this animated short was written by cartoonist Horst von Möllendorff and animated by Hans Fischerkoesen. It was animated in Potsdam, Germany, near UFA’s Neubabelsberg Studios. The original cartoon is in color but was transferred to black and white after the U.S. seized it during WWII. The story gets weirder from there.; ‘Santa’s Surprise’ (1947)– Five children from around the world follow Santa home on Christmas Eve, and decide to give him some extra help around the workshop. This cartoon introduced Little Audrey to the cartoon world. The voice talent here includes MAE QUESTEL, otherwise known as the voices of Little Audrey, Olive Oyl and, most famously, Betty Boop; ‘The Snowman,’ the 1982 animated adaption of Raymond Briggs’s award winning 1978 picture book was an Academy Award nominee and remains one of the most haunting of all seasonal films (our clip includes the David Bowie introductory scene that was cut from the American release); and another Raymond Briggs gem, a 1991 animated version blending the stories of the author’s award winning 1973 book Father Christmas and its 1975 sequel, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday.



A still from ‘The Insects’ Christmas’ (1913)

Five rare Yuletide cartoons rarely seen anymore. The Insects’ Christmas, from 1913, is the brainchild of a visionary director, Wladyslaw Starewicz, a pioneer of stop-motion animation (he was making 3D stop-motion animated films in 1910) who made his own puppets and favored animals and insects to play his characters; according to one critic, Starewicz made many semi-scientific pictures of animal life, as well as a number of films in which he has adapted the customs of primitive peoples and utilized their decorative work. Say this for his holiday offering: It’s not like anything else you’ll see at Christmastime. The year 1953 saw the now-obscure first animated take on “Frosty the Snowman,” predating the beloved Rankin-Bass TV special featuring Jimmy Durante. It was produced by United Productions of America (UPA), the company best known for the multitude of Gerald McBoing-Boing and Mr. Magoo cartoons it produced from the 1950s into the 1970s, and for doing the animated titles for several of Rod Serling’s classic Twilight Zone episodes in the ’60s. This “Frosty” was once in regular holiday rotation on Chicago’s WGN-TV, which expanded its holiday cartoon lineup to include two 1951 cartoons employing the stop-motion artistry of the legendary Wah Ming Chang (who went on to design props and costumes for Star Trek—yes, the Tribbles were his creation). Mr. Chang’s contributions to the holiday season, which once aired every season on WGN-TV, round out this feature: “Suzy Snowflake” and “Harrock, Coco and Joe—The Three Little Dwarfs.” Follow this link to these Christmas classics.




By Leo Tolstoy

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now they had gone. His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.



By Hans Christian Andersen

It was winter-time; the air was cold, the wind was sharp, but within the closed doors it was warm and comfortable, and within the closed door lay the flower; it lay in the bulb under the snow-covered earth.

One day rain fell. The drops penetrated through the snowy covering down into the earth, and touched the flower-bulb, and talked of the bright world above. Soon the Sunbeam pierced its way through the snow to the root, and within the root there was a stirring.

“Come in,” said the flower.



A collection of vintage Christmas poems and classic Christmas songs on video from our 2021 Baedeker. This year’s featured poets include ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON; RICHARD SOUTHWELL; DOLLIE RADFORD; CAROLINE HAYWARD; and EDGARD ALBERT GUEST. Musical interludes are provided by THE POGUES (‘Fairytale of New York,’ with Kirsty MacColl); THE PRETENDERS (‘2000 Miles’); THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN (‘Snoopy’s Christmas’); THE SALSOUL ORCHESTRA (‘Christmas Medley’); and THE SUPREMES (‘Little Bright Star’).




By Bob Marovich

When did the tradition of gospel artists recording Christmas carols begin? One is inclined to answer that Mahalia Jackson set the standard in 1950 with her Apollo recording of “Silent Night,” but the tradition goes back more than two decades before the release of Mahalia’s disc. Herein recognized gospel authority Bob Marovich relates a brief history of Christmas-oriented gospel music from the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers (1926) to Edwin Hawkins and his Family Christmas album (1985). Follow this link to the Bob Marovich’s updated look at Christmas-oriented gospel music.




In Clive Donner’s 1984 TV adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, GEORGE C. SCOTT offers a definitive Ebenezer Scrooge in a production solid from beginning to end, with an evocative score by the brothers Bicat.


FROM THE INKWELL: FOUR ANIMATED HOLIDAY CLASSICS–You know Dasher and Dancer and Prantzer and Vixen…and you know Miracle On 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story–Christmas and holiday-themed movies that deserve an honored place in any holiday video collection. We have a special place in our hearts for the animated classics, and so here are four acknowledged classics of the form, good for family viewing at Christmastime, and in fact, at any time. Follow this link to reviews of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, FROSTY THE SNOWMAN/FROSTY RETURNS, MICKEY’S CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE SNOWMAN.


‘I asked for tenderness and depth of feeling. You have shown me that. Nothing more I need to see.’

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge ‘the shadows of things that have not happened but will happen in the time before us…’ From the 1984 production of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott.



By David McGee (unless otherwise noted)

NO WORDS NECESSARY: LEROY ANDERSON & JOHN FAHEY AT CHRISTMASA new John Fahey volume from Fantasy, Christmas Guitar Soli, spurs an update of our previously published review of A Leroy Anderson Christmas and the Rhino two-fer of Fahey’s pair of Christmas album recorded for his own Takoma label, The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album & Christmas with John Fahey, Vol. II.

BALSAM RANGE, It’s Christmas Time (Mountain Heart) (2017)At only six songs clocking in at 18 minutes, Balsam Range’s bluegrass renderings of Yuletide gems goes by fast but memorably and movingly. One of the EP’s calling cards is the presence of the Nashville Recording Orchestra, which may not sound promising on a bluegrass outing but turns out to be a nice, measured enhancement providing a subtle extra emotional lift to the close three-part harmony perfection marking these proceedings. Follow this link to the full review in Deep Roots.

MANDY BARNETT, Winter Wonderland–Despite a boatload of critical acclaim over the years, the expected breakthrough commercial smash has eluded Mandy Barnett. It’s unlikely a Christmas album will do what her two studio albums from the ‘90s could not do, but if one could, Winter Wonderland would be it. It is, quite simply, a virtuoso performance of sensitive, nuanced vocalizing, as good as it gets, in service and bringing fresh energy to a clutch of beloved seasonal standards.

KATHLEEN BATTLE and CHRISTOPHER PARKENING: Angels’ GloryTo the energy and intellect the marked his playing in his early professional career, Christopher Parkening has over time (notably since returning from a self-imposed retirement in the early ‘80s, during which he became a devout Christian) added restraint as another essential ingredient to his approach. He uses it as effectively as the late film director Stanley Kubrick used silence, making it an identifiable element of his art, a near-sensuous presence as a defining feature of the soundscapes he constructs with strings. It is one of the many compelling aspects of his exceptional pairing with the temperamental lyric soprano Kathleen Battle on the seasonal fare comprising Angels’ Glory.

MARY J. BLIGE, A MARY CHRISTMAS—The millions of fans that have been buying Mary J. Blige’s albums since her 1992 debut haven’t been buying her celebrity; they’re moved by a voice with deep roots in classic soul, gospel and R&B and the intense personal commitment she makes to her lyrics. These attributes are in abundant evidence on A Mary Christmas, which is nothing less than far and away the best new Christmas album of a strong 2013 season.

MICHAEL BUBLÉ, Christmas–Winning takes on familiar fare; a sense of history informing some of the tunes; empathetic duet partners; and thoroughly engaged vocalizing, not perfect but perfect in its intent and evincing in its many moods a sensitivity to seasonal textures: the Canadian crooner’s Christmas offering was Number One for a reason.

GLEN CAMPBELL, THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING—Finally, a domestic CD reissue of Glen Campbell’s 1968 Al De Lory-produced (-arranged-conducted) That Christmas Feeling. Two bonus tracks from a 1969 multi-artist Yule anthology have been added to the original album’s 11 tracks to add even more luster to this most heartfelt, soulful addition to the Christmas album canon. Thus a classic restored.

CANADIAN BRASS, CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE–With a discography of more than 100 albums to its credit, Canadian Brass has proven it is never at a loss for clever concepts in delivering music from across the ages in a different fashion. The quintet’s latest holiday album, Christmas Time is Here, is a fine example of this ethos at work as the beloved quintet honors the music of animated Yule specials (notably Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas) and the arrangements of former Brass members Luther Henderson and Brandon Ridenour.

JOHNNY CASH: CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ALBUM For all his well-publicized spiritual backsliding, Johnny Cash was a man strong in his Christian faith, and Christmas offered him an opportunity to express that faith most devoutly. Many of the songs featured here reference the Christ child’s birth and the hope of redemption and salvation He offered, as well as His legacy of love. In short, family and faith are the major themes here, so if you’re looking for something ornery, better take it on down the line.

THE CELTS, Christmas With The Celts–Conceptually taut and flawlessly executed with all hearts on deck, Christmas With the Celts at times stretches the boundaries of seasonal music but never loses sight of seasonal verities. It will endure.

RAY CHARLES: The Spirit of ChristmasBrother Ray does Christmas pretty much as you would expect—in his own way, never predictably, and always in the spirit of the season as only he can define it.

CHRISTMAS FROM WORCESTER: A Tribute to Sir David Willcocks, Worcester Cathedral Choir & CHRISTMAS FROM SELWYN, Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, CambridgeFor many people, Christmas means carols, and carols means David Willcocks (1919-2015). As a result of his involvement with, and contribution to, the seminal volumes of Carols for Choirs, his versions of many carols have entered the communal consciousness, and the carols selected for inclusion in the book have become standards. Between 1950 and 1957, David Willcocks was organist at Worcester Cathedral, and Christmas from Worcester has the subtitle, A Tribute to Sir David Willocks, with all the items being written and arranged by Sir David. The result is a wonderfully grand way to hear the familiar carols, with Willcocks’ brass and organ opening to “O Come, All Ye Faithful” making a great CD opener. David Willcocks arrangements open and close Christmas from Selwyn too, where the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, directed by Sarah MacDonald with organist Shanna Hart and Ben Comeau, mix the popular carols with other Christmas fare. The result has a lovely intimacy, rather than Worcester’s large-scale grandeur, and the Christmas songs in popular vein are a complete delight. Reviews by Robert Hugill.

CHRISTMAS THE MOUNTAIN WAY (Various Artists)A CD/DVD combo from a show earlier this year in Pineville, Kentucky, featuring some of the top names in traditional bluegrass celebrating the true meaning of Christmas in familiar carols and a couple of new tunes written especially for this occasion. DALE ANN BRADLEY, STEVE GULLEY, MARTY RAYBON, COMMON STRINGS, CUMBERLAND RIVER, MIKE SCOTT and DEBBIE GULLEY are among the impressive roster of top-tier bluegrassers who make this an essential Christmas offering from the Rural Rhythm label.

DALLAS WIND SYMPHONY, Horns for the Holidays— If you are a lover of Christmas music—carols, popular songs, and all manner of medleys and clever arrangements of such—and you miss this extraordinary recording by the first-rate Dallas Wind Symphony, then your holiday listening stands to be just a bit more dull, less festive, and more ordinary than it could have been. This is a terrific program, in exemplary sound, that botht  celebrates the Christmas music tradition even as it exemplifies the best of the wind ensemble genre.

BOB DYLAN, Christmas From the Heart By Billy AltmanI think it’s safe to say that, were he so inclined, Bob Dylan would probably be having himself a merry little “Ho ho ho” surveying all the furrowed-brow commentary surrounding the “meaning” of his Christmas In The Heart. The CD finds Dylan delivering disarmingly straightforward renditions of fifteen Yuletide tunes, all of which have been part of our collective consciousness since everyone’s childhood. As he’s periodically demonstrated throughout his near half-century in the public eye, Dylan is an artist who at his core really does understand and respect the value of tradition.

HARMONIE ENSEMBLE New York: TCHAIKOVSKY, ELLINGTON & STRAYHORN: NUTCRACKER SUITES (Conductor: Steven Richman)— Since releasing its first album in 1990, Harmonie Ensemble/New York, founded by conductor/music director Steven Richman, has been predictably unpredictable in its program choices and even more so in how it approaches those choices. Works by Copland, Grofé, Stravinsky, Dvorak and Gershwin adorn the ensemble’s catalog and all have received enthusiastic reviews. Richman and Ensemble scored a major triumph in 2010 in revisiting the Miles Davis/Gil Evans jazz landmark Sketches of Spain with veteran trumpeter Lew Soloff (who, in addition to his many other credits, joined Evans for two albums in the ‘70s and has been a longtime member of the Manhattan Jazz Quintet). While respecting the original recording, Richman’s arrangements added new texture and color that, as critics agreed, enhanced the strengths of the Davis/Evans collaboration by injecting striking personal touches that evokes, as, as one reviewer said, “a Spain that existed in Evans’ musical imagination. ”The Ensemble’s latest foray into the classical/jazz realm in the form of not one but two versions of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite ballet music. The first is a straight-ahead, beautifully arranged recording of the original score, as you might hear it every year at this time at the New York City Ballet’s annual Nutcracker productions at Lincoln Center. The second honors the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn Nutcracker with a Harmonie Ensemble jazz lineup of musicians making a run at it following its faithful orchestral rendition of Tchaikovsky’s score. For some, one Nutcracker a year is likely quite enough but Steve Richman and the crack lineup he’s assembled in the Harmonie Ensemble New York lend musical heft to legendary Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks’s classic cry of “Let’s play two!” They did, and they won both ends of the doubleheader.

THE ELLINGTONIAN NUTCRACKER by IRVING TOWNSEND— The liner notes published on the back cover of the 1960 Columbia Records release of The Nutcracker Suite as performed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. In his liner notes, Townsend, a revered producer who steered Miles Davis’s 1959 masterpiece, King of Blue (the best selling jazz album of all time), discusses the origins of The Nutcracker Suite and offers a track-by-track description of Ellington’s reimagine of Tchaikovsky’s ballet score (as well as a fantasy sequence involving Ellington and Tchaikovsky meeting in Las Vegas while the former was holding forth at The Riviera. If only… Also reviewed here: DUKE ELLINGTON: THREE SUITES, a 2008 release featuring three Ellington-Strayhorn suites: The Nutcracker; Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites 1 & 2; and their own Suite Thursday.

FARMER JASON, CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM— This much is guaranteed: you’ll find no other Christmas album for this season as warm-hearted, warm and downright funny as Jason Ringenberg’s (aka Farmer Jason) Christmas on the Farm. Being nothing less than a holiday lesson for kids in the important role animals of all kinds play in everyday life and did play in the Christmas Story, Christmas On the Farm embraces Farmer Jason’s past as neo-honky tonk punk rocker (as the titular head of Nashville’s awesome Jason & The Scorchers) to advance its messages with a twang here, a backwoods country drawl of a vocal there and with what the Pogues’ late, great Philip Chevron called “a punk rock kick in the arse.” To accomplish this Farmer Jason (the rural persona Ringenberg adopted a decade or so ago) enlisted the formidable assistance of producers Thomas Jutz and Peter Cooper, and further enlisted Jutz to do something else he excels at—playing rootsy, dynamic guitar—added Mark Fain on bass and Lynn Williams on percussion. Additional expert assistance came from the likes of Sierra Hull (mandolin), Steve Herman (trumpet), Fats Kaplin (steel guitar and fiddle), Kelli Workman (piano), Dave Roe and Molly Felder (vocals), Webb Wilder in memorable guest appearance, and even a couple of other Ringenbergs—his daughters Addie Rose on vocal and Camille on flute joining in to create a charming, lilting rendition of “Away In a Manger” evoking the solemnity and tenderness of the Christ child’s birth night with the animals lowing beside Him protectively.

ELLA FITZGERALD: And A Swinging Christmas To You, TooRemastered and reissued in 2002, the First Lady of Song’s only album-length collection of secular Christmas songs ranks with the finest efforts of her gifted peers, including those of her staunch fan and supporter Frank Sinatra.

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Making Believers Of Us AllWhether live or in the studio on Joy To The World, Aretha Franklin is never far from the gospel highway–the church infuses everything she does here. So mark this one a seasonal keeper, by the sheer force of Aretha’s unassailable artistry and bountiful spirit. She’ll make a believer of you, in many ways. 

THE GATHERING–It has a certain magic about it, this music, in the seeming ease of its instrumental virtuosity coupled to a spirit of friendship and common cause—there is not a moment on The Gathering that doesn’t sound free and impassioned, musicians having a great time playing with each other and giving their hearts to the task at hand. A memorable Christmas moment by way of the gathered artistry of Laurelyn Dossett; the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens; the John Hartford and Nashville Bluegrass Bands’ Mike Compton; multi-instrumentalist Joe Newberry; and double-bassist Jason Sypher.

HEREFORD CATHEDRAL CHOIR, Christmas from Hereford—A lovely and unusual disc, this cozy, gentle and varied collection of Christmas music from Hereford Cathedral is broken into three sections: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. The music ranges from the 14th-century Resonemus laudibus, a joyous piece arranged with a fanciful organ part by David Willcocks to offset the rigidity of the medieval melody, to a work by John Tavener (his glorious—and only—brief masterpiece, The Lamb), with stops in between, in each of the three sections, for one of Mendelssohn’s short but imposing Op. 79 motets.

JACKSON 5: ULTIMATE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION—The original Jackson 5 Christmas Album, though less introspective and minus the spirituality of Yuletide long players by labelmates Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and Stevie Wonder, is a classic Christmas album nonetheless simply for doing what the Jacksons were doing so well back then—speaking to their audience with a lot of heart and abundant, infectious energy. The original 11-song LP is remembered for its high spirits and hard charging performances; the Ultimate version of the J5 Christmas album is fleshed out with spoken Season’s Greetings from four of the five brothers (including Michael), and six other musical tracks. The original album, though, remastered and reissued on CD in 1993, will do just fine for those on a budget or preferring an undiluted Jackson 5 holiday bonanza.

ALAN JACKSON: Right At Home For ChristmasTwo very different approaches to Christmas music are defined in Alan Jackson’s Yuletide long players. Honky Tonk Christmas, released in 1993, came near the beginning of Jackson’s hit-filled career, and it emphasizes his reverence not only for the season but for the style of country music he prefers and has made his trademark when other artists of his generation and younger are recycling ’80s arena rock riffs. Let It Be Christmas, from 2002, is from an artist at the top of his game, assured enough to broaden out his basic band with orchestra, strings and a large background chorus, adopting a soft, dreamy pop ambience in stark contrast to the stripped down approach of its holiday predecessor.

GEORGE JONES & TAMMY WYNETTE: CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ALBUM— Give compilation producer Gregg Geller credit for bringing a sense of humor to the task of compiling tracks for the George Jones & Tammy Wynette Classic Christmas Album entry. Granted, he didn’t have a Sinatra-like wealth of holiday outpourings from which to choose, so maybe it’s not so surprising that, apart from the traditional favorites here, the album breaks down to Possum taking the lead on songs despairing of the holidays bringing anything but misery and Tammy balancing the scales with positive, upbeat or inspirational forecasts.

B.B. KING: A SOUL EVERY MORE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT IT KNOWS OF LOVE– The interesting fact about B.B. KING‘s first Christmas album is how the sum of the parts adds up to something greater than what went down in Maurice, Louisiana’s Dockside Studios in June 2001. Taken individually, the performances on the album are warm and ingratiating enough, appropriate to the season, some treated in a lighthearted manner, a couple of blues getting down into the depths of feeling; but when it’s all over, a spell lingers. There’s something special about the imprint B.B. puts on these songs–the conviction in his voice, the personality he projects throughout, Lucille’s sunny tone—and when that’s coupled to his road band’s high spirited accompaniment the end result is a model Yuletide blues album that sneaks up on a listener.

RICK LANG, Christmas, Close to Home, Hearth and Heart— Songwriter Rick Lang has endeared himself to the bluegrass and bluegrass gospel worlds with his eloquent, well-crafted tunes, commitment to his craft and personal warmth. His second seasonal album, That’s What I Love About Christmas, is only going to elevate the respect he’s gained over the years.
With the help of producer-guitarist-vocalist Stephen Mougin, Lang has found his new batch of Christmas songs presented in ways he hadn’t expected but has found pleasantly surprising. After hearing some of the first tunes Lang had completed, Mougin offered as to how he could hear them in a small combo jazz-influenced style. Keeping things tight, economical and reflective in mood gives That’s What I Love About Christmas an intimate, chamber-like quality; and though the ambience is serene, it’s not melancholy—even the reverent readings of “Angels From On High” and “Prepare a Place for Him,” by crystalline-voiced Jane Mougin (the latter tune also featuring affecting background harmony vocals by Darin and Brooke Aldridge and Amy Darrow) are upbeat in message.

GOOD TIDINGS FROM LITTLE MISS DYNAMITE: Brenda Lee Makes Christmas MemorableFrom “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” to “Papa Noel” to “Christmas Time Is Near,” the 18 tracks comprising The Best of Brenda Lee: The Christmas Collection, so unassuming in its design, assay a wide range of feelings, and illustrates anew the great synergy between producer Owen Bradley and artist BRENDA LEE. All those enduring pop and country hits were no accident, and the performances herein, though less well known, are standing the test of time quite well, too, thank you. 

LOS ROMEROS, CHRISTMAS WITH LOS ROMEROS— In a world whose centrifugal globalizing powers are stretching the fibers of closely-knit tribal units to breaking point, the final days of December don’t just mark a time of stability, but of unity: Having mostly sacrificed its religious meaning in favor of commerce, Christmas, to most, has retained its significance by remaining a family ritual. So it should seem only consequential that Los Romeros should finally record their first Christmas album after half a century at the pole position of the guitar quartet, a genre they have made their own like few others.

NICK LOWE, QUALITY STREET: A SEASONAL SELECTION FOR ALL THE FAMILY— Nick Lowe might not immediately spring to mind as an artist you’d expect to find releasing a Christmas album—he can, after all, come off as curmudgeonly and unsentimental, much closer in spirit to Ebenezer Scrooge than to Bob Cratchit. But when his new label home, Yep Roc, suggested a holiday project, he took it under advisement and shortly thereafter bought in. The result, Quality Street, fulfills his vision, and comes complete with a subtitle that might strike some fans as being quintessentially snarky in a Nick Lowe kind of way but is in fact completely sincere. He keeps Christmas well.

RAUL MALO, Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites (2007)– In one of the most classic of The Honeymooners’ Classic 39 episodes, “Alice and The Blonde,” Ralph Kramden’s sidekick, subterranean sanitation worker Ed Norton, compliments Burt Weidemeyer on the appearance of the Weidemeyer apartment (newly inhabited by Burt’s blushing bride, the “Blonde” of the episode title, who boasts a decided Jayne Mansfield flair about her) by declaring it to be “suave. That’s a long-winded way to make the point that Raul Malo’s stunner of a Christmas album, the benignly (or retro-) titled Marshmallow World & Other Holiday Favorites, is many things, all marvelous, but mostly it is suave like nobody’s business–much like Malo himself, come to think about it. Working economically, Malo assembled seven other musicians to support him, all but two (John McTigue III on drums, Neil Rosengarden on trumpet) playing multiple instruments. Malo himself works out on four instruments–including the Danelectro baritone guitar with the deep, fat twang that has become a mainstay of Malo’s sound–and his catholic touch is all over the arrangements, which range from big band swing, to cheery R&B, to saloon-style blues, to south of the border flavors; but in the end, for all his mastery of every aspect of his art, Malo’s voice and scintillating attack, so unpredictable and so richly informed by history, puts this album in league with the finest holiday albums of all time.

OF SOUL, AS AN AFFIRMATION OF OUR COMMON HUMANITY: THE ULTIMATE MOTOWN CHRISTMAS COLLECTION—The best reason to buy all the classic ‘60s Christmas albums from legendary Motown artists such as the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and the Temptations, among others, is because those albums are so good in and of themselves. However, the two-CD, 51-track The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection is pretty great on its own, too, in that it serves up some of the finest performances from Motown greats along with some worthy installments by good artists who followed the label’s Golden Era. Make no mistake, though—the big names carry this double-disc set, and they alone elevate it to the rank of Yuletide essentials.

MARIA MULDAUR, CHRISTMAS AT THE OASIS— Initially available only at her live dates, then offered only on her website, Maria Muldaur’s Christmas the Oasis (recorded in 2010 at San Francisco’s now-defunct Rrazz Room) is now available on Amazon as a manufactured-on-demand CD-R—whatever it takes to get it into wider circulation, because it’s one grand, swinging affair, as rollicking a Yuletide celebration as one could ask, with our gal cutting loose in splendid, attitudinous voice throughout and a powerhouse band kicking it behind her on some vintage holiday fare, including three chestnuts most associated with Louis Armstrong, as well as some evergreens from some of the female blues singers of yore she admires so much.

MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY, ACOUSTIC CHRISTMAS CAROLS: COWBOY CHRISTMAS IIWhat can you say? At every step Murph makes all the right moves and delivers a Christmas message in a style all his own, as intimate in its concept and execution as it is expansive in its larger meaning. This is a big-time album, in a quiet way.

MARK O’CONNOR, AN APPALACHIAN CHRISTMAS—Comprised largely of superb, previously released performances, An Appalachian Christmas is, says O’Connor, in “the spirit” of the mountain region he sometimes calls home. Purists may indeed agree with an Amazon reviewer who can’t spell Appalachia but decries this as being Appalachian in stock cover photo only; but even taking such objections into account, what’s right here is the spirit invested by some of today’s finest musical artists in lending virtuosity, heart and soul to these proceedings. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

THEN, NOW, ALWAYS PATTI PAGEConsidering a consummate stylist’s two fine Christmas albums, released almost fifty years apart, 1955’s Christmas With Patti Page and 2002’s Sweet Sounds of Christmas, on which she reduces age to irrelevance. 

THE ROYS, Bluegrass Kinda Christmas— The sibling duo of Lee and Elaine Roy closed out 2014 on a high note, with a heralded new studio album, The View, making its debut in September (earning Album of the Week honors at Deep Roots) and later with their first seasonal effort, featuring one new original tune (the title track) amidst a thoughtful collection of country and bluegrass Christmas tunes of mostly recent vintage plus a couple of evergreens. The Roys’ own new tune (“Bluegrass Kinda Christmas,” a co-write with Steve Dean) is a lively seasonal celebration, with Elaine taking a sprightly lead vocal, Lee providing a warm harmony and everyone taking the spotlight for lightning-strike solos that show off the precision and soul of fiddler Clint White, banjo man Daniel Patrick, bassist Erik Alvar and Lee on mandolin. Elsewhere Lee and Elaine put their own stamp on some familiar secular seasonal songs and take time for some stirring reverent moments marking the signal event for Christmas being Christmas.

IF IT’S CHRISTMAS, IT MUST BE THE SKAGGS FAMILY, TWICE OVERSeven years after the release of the first Skaggs Family Christmas album, a tasty collection of a dozen sacred and secular carols, the whole clan returned last year with Volume Two of A Skaggs Family Christmas, an impressive triple-gatefold package containing a 10-song CD of studio and live performances plus an accompanying two hour-twenty minute DVD of the entire Skaggs Family Christmas Show, recorded live in Nashville.

MINDY SMITH, Snowed In— In 2007 Mindy Smith released one of that year’s finest Christmas albums in My Holiday. Six years later she’s in the spirit again, albeit in EP mode, on this delectable five-song missive titled Snowed In. It’s another seasonal winner for Ms. Smith, whose plaintive voice and sheer conviction is nothing short of captivating

SOLACE AND LAUGHTER IN A VALLEY OF TEARSOriginally released at the end of a tumultuous 1968, Atlantic’s SOUL CHRISTMAS collection, featuring southern soul greats such as Otis Redding, William Bell, Carla Thomas, Clarence Carter, Booker T. & the MG’s, and others, came along with a message of love, conciliation and reconciliation, delivered with conviction, warmth, inclusiveness and a dollop of humor. It was recorded by black and white musicians in studios in New York and Nashville, but mostly in Memphis, not far from the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. King lost his life. Soul Christmas abounded in hope without ignoring reality, offered solace and laughter in a valley of tears. It still does; you just have to work a little harder to get there.

THE MYTHIC WEIGHT OF PHIL SPECTOR’S CHRISTMAS GIFT by BILLY ALTMANFew holiday albums carry the mythic weight of 1963’s A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector, wherein Spector sought to put his personal stamp on Christmas music by “treating” a batch of well-worn Yuletide classics to his signature “Wall of Sound” production style. Here’s what happened next, when tragic history intruded on the young producer-titan’s dream project.

JO STAFFORD: Season’s Greetings Of A Singular NatureAssessing the essential holiday recordings by one of the greatest of all American pop singers. Quoth Lester Young: ‘I hear her voice and the sound and the way and the way she puts things on. Enough said.’

CENTURIES OF SENTIMENT AND CELEBRATION By Christopher Hill–STING, If On A Winter’s Night; SUSAN MCKEOWN & LINDSEY HOMER, Through the Bitter Frost and Snow: Every once in a while, an artist happens down the Christmas trail through whose senses we can feel the season freshly; combine that with centuries of festive associations, and you can really have something.

BARBRA STREISAND: CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ALBUM When it came time to compile a setlist for Barbra Streisand’s Classic Christmas Album entry, producers Didier C. Deutsch, Jeffrey James and Tim Sturges probably couldn’t believe they were getting paid for this task. Babs has but two Christmas albums in her catalog, separated by 34 years’ time, but in their combined 23 tracks the discs offer a bounty that must have made the producer team giddy. This is Streisand at her apex in recordings made almost three-and-a-half decades apart. Make no mistake–she’s the classic here, and a classy one at that.

CHRISTMAS CARAVAN, Sultans of String (CEN)– Here is the best—and what promises to be the most enduring—Christmas album of the 2017 Yuletide season. Even as Canada’s Sultans of String and their guests put a new spin on traditional favorites, they never get so far out as to render those tunes unrecognizable. That is, the spirit of the season gets a makeover, but is still the spirit we’ve known for bringing good tidings of great joy. Three-time JUNO nominees in their native Canada, the Sultans of String quintet makes a musical case for inclusiveness and diversity on their first holiday outing, and what impressive support they enlisted. Many of the names here have earned fans beyond the world music audience and all have done exemplary work in their time. We’re talking about the likes of the Chieftains’ great Paddy Moloney; Ruben Blades; Nikki Yanofsky; Sweet Honey in the Rock; Cameroon’s stellar Richard Bona; sitar virtuoso Anwar Kurshid; JUNO award winning country singer Crystal Shawanda, whose string-enhanced, impassioned reading of “Jesous Ahatonhia (Huron Carol)” is a thing of beauty; a recording collective of Turkish Roma violinists from Istanbul adding exotic majesty to “Greensleeves” in a riveting album opener; and the October Project’s Mary Fahl. Wow Just wow. Follow this link to the full review, “Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That String,” in Deep Roots.

THE THREE SUNS, A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas— There was a time, in the late ‘40s into the pre-Elvis early ‘50s, when a trio of guys—who were different guys on record than they were in live performance—playing tasty but fairly straightforward pop instrumentals could command a large enough audience to reach the upper regions of the charts and make a decent living playing clubs. The now-almost-forgotten Three Suns were one such group. … This is the Suns’ fourth Yuletide effort. The first, The Three Suns Present Your Christmas Favorites, was released as a set of three 45 RPM singles in 1949, followed in ’52 by the 10-inch Christmas Party, which in turn was followed, in ’55, by the 12-inch LP Sounds of Christmas. A few of the tunes on the latter Christmas discs were reprised for Ding Dong, but that’s where the similarities end. At this juncture it sounds like the Suns had decided to go for broke and deconstruct these beloved seasonal songs, then put them back together in a way no one had heard them before. If Irving Berlin was so offended by Elvis’s respectful rendering of “White Christmas,” then you have to wonder if he might not have stroked out upon hearing the Suns’ treatment—rapid-fire rock ‘n’ roll guitar glissandos raining down on the track along with rushes of chimes, while a stately organ plays a funereal melody line. If the version of “Skater’s Waltz” included here is the beloved, elegant 1882 classic composition by Émile Waldteufel (who is credited, so it must be), then I’m a suck-egg mule because it’s so far out it’s a different tune—but hilarious in the way the burping tuba keeps getting upstaged by the cartoonish chimes until a Lawrence Welk-ish accordion butts in comically and then gives way to a pretty cool rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo: it sounds like something out of a Marx Brothers movie (save for the guitar).

DONNA ULISSE, ALL THE WAY TO BETHLEHEM— From the first brisk, fingerpicked acoustic guitar notes on the album opening hosanna, “I See the Light of the World,” to the near-identical melody and spirit summoned by the fiddle, mandolin and pennywhistle on the closing exaltation, “Morning In Bethlehem,” and the vignettes and music that fall in between these bookends, Donna Ulisse’s song cycle All the Way to Bethlehem is not merely close to perfection, it’s a work of art. Employing most of the stellar cast she teamed with on 2009’s Walt This Mountain Down and 2011’s An Easy Climb, both of which easily earned rave reviews in, Ulisse has crafted a musical novella capturing multiple scenes and points of view relating to the birth of Christ, from the foretelling of his arrival to the trials of Joseph and Mary as they sought a safe place for the child’s birth to the ecstatic celebrations of God’s son arriving in corporeal form. It’s not a Christmas album, in the sense almost every other album reviewed in this issue is a Christmas album; it’s not even a holiday album. It surmounts those limiting categories by humanizing the story’s major players (and in one instance a minor but key figure in the whole scheme of things), by allowing listeners to eavesdrop on their intimate interior monologues—or how Ulisse (who wrote some songs by herself, and others with collaborators familiar to those who have followed her career, namely Marc Rossi and her husband Rick Stanley, son of Ralph) imagines those to have been—during the run-up, if you will, to Christ’s birth. In this sense, All the Way to Bethlehem combines the themes of her previous two albums in delving into matters of faith and its practical application in our daily lives (Walk This Mountain Down) and deeply personal ruminations on faith, love and commitment (An Easy Climb).

RHONDA VINCENT, CHRISTMAS TIMEIt was 2006 when last we heard from Rhonda Vincent at Christmas time, but come 2015 she returned in style with, yes, Christmas Time, featuring a delightful dozen tunes including four Vincent originals (one of which, “Christmas Time at Home,” was re-recorded for this project after appearing first on the 2006 album, Beautiful Star: The Christmas Collection). Her stellar band, The Rage, is supplemented by the likes of Stuart Duncan on fiddle, the increasingly visible Sierra Hull on mandolin, Michael Rojas on piano and Mike Johnson on steel, all of whom make this a holly, jolly Yuletide evergreen of a seasonal album.

ANDY WILLIAMS: CLASSIC CHRISTMAS ALBUM­Let it be said that the late Andy Williams knew how to keep Christmas well. The man recorded no less than eight Yule albums, three of which provide the bulk of the material for this Classic Christmas Album release. Given that most of the tracks fall in that period when Williams was not only hot on the charts but also hosting his own wildly popular TV variety show, he’s in peak vocal form here. It’s a most wonderful time, this album.

WINTERBLOOM, TRADITIONS REARRANGED—It’s unclear at this point exactly how down with Father Christmas the four impressive gals of Winterbloom really are, but they sure have made their holiday EP a memorable event, acerbic and reverent all at once.

DAVID WOOD, A CHRISTMAS GIFT –It’s a spare, haunting, reverent but spiritually enriching, often joyous album, featuring only Mr. Wood and his rich acoustic guitar on 22 songs (you don’t get cheated here), three of which are the artist’s own originals (plus a 32-second prelude and 31-second postlude referencing the sacred carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Note the postlude and prelude, though: the former establishes the theme for what’s to come, the other brings the journey full circle. The journey is into the heart of the Christmas experience, not the commercial one (which makes the inclusion of Vince Guaraldi’s delightful “Christmas Time is Here” amusing indeed, as a tuneful, gentle reminder of what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown). … Much like John Fahey’s more metaphysical The New Possibility, A Christmas Gift is, without qualification, a work of art, a great album for any season and for anyone willing to open his or her heart to that which makes us whole.

TRISHA YEARWOOD, THE SWEETEST GIFT–For her first holiday album, one of country’s great singers eschewed the safety of seasonal favorites for a 50-50 mix, with half of the songs being newly penned by contemporary songwriters. Despite being no stranger to huge, soaring ballads, Yearwood here opts mostly for a low-key approach, and by and large keeps it country; in the end the sweetest gift is quietude.



(from our archives, other recommended recent and vintage Christmas music)

DEANA CARTER, Father Christmas

CHERISH THE LADIES, A Star in the East


JOHN COWAN, Comfort &Joy

CHARLIE DANIELS, A Merry Christmas To All


ETTA JAMES, 12 Songs of Christmas


HEY ROSETTA, A Cup of Kindness

TOBY KEITH, A Classic Christmas, Vols. One and Two

PATTY LOVELESS, Bluegrass & White Snow


KATHY MATTEA, Joy For Christmas Day

REBA MCENTIRE, The Best Of Reba: The Christmas Collection


NEW GRANGE, Christmas Heritage

JOE NICHOLS, A Traditional Christmas

BRAD PAISLEY, A Brad Paisley Christmas

SHEDAISY, Brand New Year


JAMES TAYLOR, At Christmas

PAM TILLIS, Just In Time For Christmas





WYNONNA, A Classic Christmas


And So, As Tiny Tim Observed…


Scrooge Transformed: The final scenes from the 1984 production of A Christmas Carol



The closing song, ‘God Bless Us Every One,’ written by Tony and Nick Bicât for the 1984 production of A Christmas Carol and heard in full over the closing credits. Posted at YouTube by Daughter of Ramandu.



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