Bear Family Records has released a sequel to their Have Yourself a Swingin’ Little Christmas compilation. Have Yourself Another Swingin’ Little Christmas picks up where the last one left off, providing Jazz, Swing, Pop and early Rhythm & Blues based on the theme of Christmas. I have listened to a fair few of Bear Family’s festive offerings in the past, and have always found them to be varied but fascinating; With a nice mix of well-known and obscure tracks. This album contains twenty-nine tracks which span 1950 to 1961; Is this CD worth picking up?
The album begins with Chet Atkins’ interpretation of Jingle Bell Rock, demonstrating his signature clean sound. The notes are accentuated by harmonising singers who lift the track’s festive mood. It’s a short start, (1:44) but it’s a perfect introduction to the format. Next, Ramsay Lewis Trio tickles the ivories for a jazzy reimagining of Winter Wonderland. It’s groovy yet tranquil; The highly separated stereo field only makes it seem slightly strange.
The album features a number of familiar names in the genres this compilation is focused on. The likes of Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Tennesee Ernie Ford and Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters all feature in the mix. However, they’re not performing the songs you would expect. This doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, as I feel this compilation is about bringing nostalgic festive feelings, and it succeeds.
All of the festive standards you would expect on a compilation are found here, and they sound as good as ever. Jingle Bell Rock: Represented once again, this time by Country star Eddy Arnold; Who turns in an almost Boogie Rock / Blues reading of the track. Hearing the two versions featured here, really shows the elasticity of the original composition. Silent Night: Bobby Darin sings Silent Night beautifully, with understanted strings and chorus; Lovely. Peggy Lee, in her third appearance on the album, performs a version of the track that was featured on Disney‘s Lady and The Tramp soundtrack.
Jingle Bells: Performed by Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians With The Glee Club, is a mixed genre version with plenty of swing. Coming in at a whopping 6:48 minutes, its a medley of one song performed in different ways, and extremely intruiging. The melody is also featured in the track entitled A Christmas Festival, a huge but short orchestral take on a couple of Christmas melodies. Lastly, Pearl Bailey’s powerful vocals to a Cha-Cha themed backing that made me want to dance. And I did!
Sleigh Ride: Johnny Desmond’s intermittent giggle in his voice, along with nostalgic chorus of the Ray Charles Singers, makes this recording a joy. Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer: An orchestral arrangement from The 101 Strings Orchestra, which remained in the vault for many years until the late 90s, is full of dramatic sections that feel like they shouldn’t fit the song, but they do. Here Comes Santa Claus: The Sammy Kaye Orchestra, with a vocal by Don Cornell, muster up a fairly traditional gentle Swing arrangement with pleasing vocal performances.
There are other interesting additions, which could have been changed or left off the tracklisting. It’s A Marshmallow World was recorded by so many artists, but Damone’s recording fits the mood perfectly; His voice piercing through the classic instrumentation. It wouldn’t be a Christmas compilation without a novelty song. Bill Darnell & Smith Brothers’ Too Fat To Be Santa Claus is going to be marmite for many listeners, but I can’t help but be drawn in by it’s strange but memorable hook. The same could be said for We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo…An extremely catchy chorus.
Finishing the album is Jackie Gleason and his Orchestra & The Keith Textor Singers’ version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas…Yes it really is THAT Jackie Gleason. Alongside his various comedy roles, including The Honeymooners, he also became known to produce ‘mood music’ during the 1950s and 1960s. The song is usually quite sombre, but this recording takes it to another level. It isn’t Easy Listening, its even more relaxed than that. A calm way to end, literally with bells on.
Aside from a few artefacts on some tracks, the quality is high. It is clear many of these recordings, especially ones made by the bigger artists, are sourced from the master tapes. If there are any that are from less than perfect sources, I can’t help but find the imperfections nostalgic in their own way.
Alongside the CD in a plastic case, is an18 page booklet with liner notes written by Marc Mittelacher. It details facts about the artists featured, plus a selection of rare photographs and illuastrations. The music will be the main selling point of this album, but it is nice to know where some of the more unusual tracks originate from.
Bear Family Records have followed up their previous effort with style. A Steady mix of recordings that manage to judge the mood just right. Its nostalgic to hear, but fresh at the same time. To hear familiar artists tackle lesser known songs is a treat, as it is to hear ‘new’ versions of old favourites. If you enjoy the lighter side of festive themed music that takes in Jazz and Swing, this is for you. Have Yourself Another Swingin’ Little Christmas is available from Bear Family Records.
- Chet Atkins – Jingle Bell Rock
- Ramsey Lewis Trio – Winter Wonderland
- Nat ‘King’ Cole – Mrs. Santa Claus
- Gene Autry – When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter
- Andy Williams – Christmas Is A Feeling In Your Heart
- Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians with The Glee Club – Jingle Bells
- Peggy Lee – Ring Those Christmas Bells
- Sammy Kaye Orchestra (Don Cornell Vocal) – Here Comes Santa Claus
- Johnny Desmond – Sleigh Ride
- The De Castro Sisters – Snowbound For Christmas
- Vic Damone – It’s A Marshmallow World
- Margaret Whiting & Jimmy Wakely – Christmas Candy
- Vaughn Monroe & His Orchestra – Snowy White Snow And Jingle Bells
- The McGuire Sisters – Be A Santa
- Bill Darnel & The Smith Brothers – We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo
- Elton Britt & The Beaver Valley Sweethearts – Merry Texas Christmas You All
- Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters – Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)
- Bill Darnel & The Smith Brothers – Too Fat Too Be Santa Claus
- Eddy Arnold – Jingle Bell Rock
- The 101 Strings Orchestra – Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer
- Leroy Anderson & His ‘Pops’ Concert Orchestra – A Christmas Festival
- Peggy Lee – Christmas Waltz
- Nat ‘King’ Cole – The Happiest Christmas Tree
- Tennessee Ernie Ford – Jingle-O-The Brownie
- Pearl Baily – Jingle Bells Cha Cha
- Bobby Darin – Silent Night
- Peggy Lee – Peace On Earth (Silent Night)
- The Coolbreezers With Al White & His Band – Hello Mr. New Year
- Jackie Gleason – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas