I haven't come across any new Christmas blues CDs this year, so let's instead flashback to a favorite holiday disc of mine. Christmas In New Orleans collected 13 high-quality recordings by various New Orleans-based R&B, Jazz and Gospel singers, recorded at one session in 1992 with the same basic backup band for all vocalists. It's become a perennial tradition in my household to play this one on Christmas morning.
Charmaine Neville kicks off the disc with a lighthearted version of "Santa Baby," on which she makes sure that Mr. Claus knows just what she wants for Christmas. And she's got some expensive tastes.
Tommy Ridgley follows with a wonderful version of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home For Christmas," a bit more of a soulful rendition than the original. Milton Batiste contributes a very tasteful trumpet solo to the cut. Ridgley returns later with a strong gospel-influenced version of "Silver Bells," with good piano from Rickie Monie and jazzy guitar riffs from Wayne Benette (I'm not sure if this is a misspelling, with the guitarist really the former Bobby Bland accompanist Wayne Bennett).
The bluesiest number is Ready Teddy McQuisten's "Night Before Christmas Blues," on which R.T. recites his version of the traditional Christmas story over a slow blues accompaniment.
Returning with another of Charles Brown's holiday classics is Charmaine Neville with a sassy and soulful "Merry Christmas Baby." She then gives the same treatment to Amos Milburn's "Christmas Comes But Once A Year." Batiste contributes to the latter tune with nice muted trumpet.
My favorite tune here, and one that ranks up there with other seasonal classics, is Milton Batiste's "Big Fat Santa Is Coming To Town," on which Claus is a cool hepcat who stops by the club to jam. Ernest Watson is given plenty of room in the middle of the number for a killer jazzy sax solo.
For a more traditional rendition of a Christmas classics, the gospel vocal ensemble Zion Harmonizers turn in a riveting a capella version of "Silent Night," followed by a an old-timey gospel sendup of "White Christmas."
Ending this wonderful collection is a jazzy "Jingle Bells" from Alton Carson.
I'm sure this CD has never gotten the distribution it deserves, but fortunately it's still available. Pick up a copy for yourself, and for anyone on your gift list who digs this kind of music. Seasons Greetings!
--- Bill Mitchell
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