Continuing my trek through the best holiday recordings I know, today’s is a new one for me, a serendipitous iTunes Music Store find. Who knew that James Brown had recorded not one, but two holiday albums of original Christmas songs? Fortunately, someone saw fit to reissue the stuff on one disc, titled The Best of James Brown: The Christmas Collection.
So does the world really need another Christmas album full of holiday chestnuts, even from the Hardest Working Man in Show Business? Fortunately James Brown was too smart to waste an opportunity to write great soul music. Most of the tunes are originals, with such super funk material as “Go Power at Christmas Time,” a Motown-flavored soul number; “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” in which James Brown simultaneously hits the holiday theme while pulling at the social conscience; and the slow jams “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Merry Christmas, I Love You.” Other standouts include “Santa Claus is Definitely Here to Stay,” the fabulous six and a half minute slow burn of “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year,” and the gorgeous cover of “The Christmas Song.” If the strings get a little strong at times, it just sounds like they got swept up by the excitement along with everyone else. A new favorite antidote to the six thousandth playing of “White Christmas.”
Incidentally, for an example of Christmas music by soul artists that just didn’t work out, check out this twofer collection of Christmas albums by Jackie Wilson and Al Green. Oh boy, what a stanker. Wilson badly wants to be singing opera but succeeds only in singing cheese. And the Reverend Green is in good voice, but is smothered by his early-80s backing band, or rather backing track. Yes, it sounds like someone went into Circuit City and grabbed every cheap keyboard and drum machine they could find. Skip it.
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