Christmas R&B

25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 19

Various Artists – An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas [Epic Records PE 40576, 12″ LP, 1986 Reissue – originally released 1983.]

Austin Christmas frontIt’s a Friday and the beginning of the weekend (at least this year it is.) It’s less than a week until Christmas. Whether you’re ready or not, here’s a really rockin’ album to brighten up your day or night! (I’m keeping this brief today since I’ll be undergoing a minor foot surgery this morning and will be laid up a bit as I recover from that. Holly jolly!)

An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas has always been one of my favorite Christmas albums. I bought this reissued version back in the late 80s, having been familiar with some of these great acts from the Texas blues and rock scene. There are also a couple of swing jazz pieces on here. The album was originally released on Austin Records in 1983 with different cover art. It kicks off with Angela Strehli’s hot version of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” and doesn’t look back. Here’s the brief review by Dennis MacDonald at AllMusic to give you the idea:

Austin Christmas back

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Originally issued on the Austin label in 1983, this rockin’ release was reissued with a new cover on Epic in 1986. Standouts include The Fabulous Thunderbirds‘ spirited instrumental “(Rockin’) Winter Wonderland” and vocalist Kim Wilson pouring his harp and soul into Hop Wilson’s “Merry Christmas, Darling.” Two of Austin’s finest blues divas, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton, turn in smokey and sultry covers of yule classics, but it is bassist/vocalist Sarah Brown who sizzles with her original “My Christmas Is Hung with Tears.”

And luckily enough, there’s a whole playlist on YouTube with all the songs from album collected together. Take a listen to An Austin Rhythm and Blues Christmas (be aware that ads may play in between the videos on a playlist like this; you can skip them after a few seconds usually.)

Hope you have a yourself boogie woogie Christmas! (I guess I won’t be dancing for a little while myself…)

 

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25 Days of Christmas Records – Day 13

Various Artists – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector [Rhino Records/Phil Spector International RNLP 70235, 12″ LP, 1987 Reissue. Originally released in 1963.]

Phil Spector front

Around a week ago, I talked a bit about “Sunday morning music.” Well, now it’s time to talk about “Saturday night music,” and that’s a whole different ballgame, folks. Whereas Sunday morning tends to be on the quieter side of the spectrum, Saturday night is for rockin’ and rollin’ and boogie-woogie-in’. You know what I mean. Saturday night is the party night. And the perfect Christmas-time party music can be found on A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

(You might as well get started listening to the album now, so you can enjoy it while reading, or hosting a Christmas party. Here’s a nice YouTube playlist featuring the entire album for your listening pleasure. Click on the link and it’ll play the whole thing through, but you may hear an ad during that time.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

(Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Originally released in 1963 with the title A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, the compilation features most of the acts signed to Philles Records, which was run by Phil Spector and his partner Lester Sill – hence the name, “Phil” “Les” Records. I highly recommend you read the liner notes found on the back cover of the album (click on the image to the right.) Spector makes it clear he was intent on making a great pop Christmas record, and while it may have taken almost a decade for it to become so highly regarded, most people agree he succeeded in making one of the great Christmas albums of all time.

One of the unfortunate things that contributed to its initial lackluster sales performance was this: it was released on November 22, 1963 – the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That’s certainly unlucky timing. But the situation turned around in 1972 when a little label called Apple Records reissued the album (with different artwork) after Spector had worked with John Lennon on his song “Instant Karma,” the Beatles on the Let It Be album and George Harrison on his 3-LP album All Things Must Pass. With a renewed listenership, the album has been a holiday staple ever since. It’s one of those great Christmas albums that I never get tired of hearing. And Spector’s unique production values made it sound like nothing else that had come before it as far as Christmas music is concerned. I mentioned in previous posts how Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” technique was evident in both the Elton John and Bruce Springsteen Christmas songs. Many rock or R&B versions of the classic Christmas tunes found on this album are based on these versions. This album has been hugely influential upon Christmas music in the past several decades, and will surely be influential for decades to come.

Phil Spector Christmas labelMy copy of the album shown here is a 1987 reissue that Rhino put out in conjunction with Phil Spector International. I had known of the album and had heard much of it on the radio, but hadn’t owned a copy myself. Rhino did their usual excellent job in reissuing it with the original artwork. It’s interesting to note that even though this was digitally remastered, they chose to use the original mono mixes for this reissue and not a stereo remix as had been done on the Apple versions. Many purists prefer this.

Also of note is the list of musicians who played on this album. Many of these musicians were part of the famed “Wrecking Crew” group of studio players who appeared, often anonymously, on many of the greatest albums of the 1960s. Among the more familiar names you can see listed on the back cover are Sonny Bono and Tulsa’s own Leon Russell.
Sadly, Phil Spector’s later life has been seemingly filled with turmoil. He’s currently serving his prison sentence for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson. There’s no denying he brought some brilliant music into the world. It’s too bad he seems to have fallen from grace.

Have a rockin’ good Saturday night…