Like no other, the Christmas season is inextricably wound to music. From the traditional to the secular, Christmas is tied to music more than any other time of year.
When else can you wander around, alone or with a group of your closest friends, and stop outside random people’s homes to sing to them and have the residents not think you have a screw loose.
And everyone seems to have their favorite carol or album. As carols go, I don’t think it gets any better than “Carol Of The Bells.” And my favorite records are listed down below.
I recently chatted with some of my musically minded friends about their favorite Christmas tunes.
The album was entitled A Treasury of Christmas. It featured the likes of Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and Bing Crosby, but the artist that stood out for me was Mahalia Jackson singing “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” Through the crackling needle, I remember hearing Mahalia reach down deep and sing it from the gut. That was my first taste of black gospel soul. It moved me so that I sang that song on my Christmas Eve nights in a balloon-stuffed gospel robe. Needless to say, it was a hit. In my own mind, at least.
Seth Walker, Singer/Songwriter
My favorite Christmas album of all time is Vince Guaradli’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Yes, everybody knows it, but that’s because it’s the best ever! My second favorite is a compilation called Soul Christmas, originally released in 1968. Otis Redding, Booker T. & The MGs, King Curtis, Clarence Carter . . . . oooh, yeah. You need this one in your life.
Holly Bowling, Pianist
I’m not a big aficionado of Christmas music, so I always struggled to come up with appropriate stuff when I had a local radio show. My favorites tended to be goofy stuff, like “Winter Wonderland” by The Roches, sung in a thick, Bronx accent. Or “Run Rudolph Run,” which the Grateful Dead a few times in December of 1971, with Pigpen singing. It’s a perfect Chuck Berry song, and although Chuck performed it, he didn’t write it. It was written by Johnny Marks, who also gave us “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and other classics.
David Gans, Singer/Songwriter
Perhaps no tune better represents the joy and celebration of the season than The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers doing “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn.” Recorded in 1929, Vaudevillian band leader Frankie Half Pint Jackson and band give the gift of raw energy, vigor, and freedom in a Christmas tune unlike any other. The first time I heard this record, it nearly knocked me out of my chair.
Kris Truelson, Bill & The Belles
Christmas In The Hills, by Larry Sparks, is the album that got me back into Christmas music after years of bah humbug. It would be easy for a bluegrass Christmas album to be cheesy and boring, but Mr. Sparks put together a very interesting collection of both secular and religious songs for this one. Standout include his unique take on “White Christmas,” “BEautiful Star of Bethlehem,” and “Joy To The World,” along with killer versions of “Christmas Time’s A Comin'” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” However, my personal favorite might be “Away In A Manger,” with its long instrumentals out front followed by great quartet singing at the end. As usual, with Larry Sparks there is plenty of funky and interesting guitar work throughout the record, along with his one-of-a-kind crooning and harmony singing.
Jacob Groopman, Front Country
As for me, the Christmas sound is really defined by none other than Bing Crosby. Nothing is better during the yuletide season than a fire in the fireplace and Bing’s take on “White Christmas” in the background. Also high on my list are the Christmas albums from David Grisman and 60s surf rock legends, The Ventures. I scored both of these on vinyl early this month and both have been wonderful additions to the sounds of the season.
Here’s wishing to each and all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thanks for tuning in to Trail Mix this year. This marks the last post of 2016, but Trail Mix will be back in January with a brand new set of tunes.