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Rounder Christmas Album: Must Be Santa!

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  • Posted December 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Christmas Roots Music This Good Isn't Dull

    It's good to see that roots-based record companies like Rounder Records are not only thriving but also proving that rootsy music isn't boring. Anyone who's heard the excellent "The Rounder Records' 40th Anniversary" collection will tell you that. The same could be said about "The Rounder Christmas Album: Must Be Santa!", which features most of the label's familiar artists just before Allison Krauss turned it into a major, Grammy-winning player. Some of these performers are known, such as mandolin player David Grisman doing a touching, albiet all-too-short, version of "What Child Is This?" Following that is a bouncy, old-fashioned Western ditty by Riders In The Sky; the only thing missing from that is a cameo by Gene Autry or Tex Ritter. Some of the performers were in the twilight of their careers, such as Mary Wells, the legendary Motown performer who died of lung cancer, doing an amazingly bluesy version of "Silent Night". Then there's Barry Tashian, who was the lead singer of the promising but doomed 1960's band, The Remains; he's here with his wife, Holly, doing a country tune, "Long, Long Ago". One of the finest songs here is from John McCutcheon, "Christmas In The Trenches", which touches on the true story of a World War I Christmas truce between the British and the Germans and tells the emotional story a lot better than Paul McCartney did with "Pipes Of Peace". And considering that Charles Louvin recently passed away, how about an early radio transcipt of The Louvin Brothers' sadly moving "A Shut-In At Christmas"? Legendary blues pianist Charles Brown is here, too, with "Blue Holiday" as well as a manic polka band called Brave Combo doing a hilarous version of "Must Be Santa!". Probably the most unusual song here is "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", performed by a Bahaman musician named Joseph Spence, he sings it as if he was The Tazmanian Devil, grunts and all. If there is a downside to this album, it's the inclusion of George Thorogood's "Rock and Roll Christmas", which he recorded AFTER he left Rounder for EMI. Still, you really can't quibble too much with this collection. Then again, how can you not like a Christmas collection that features the great Stax artist Irma Thomas singing "Oh Holy Night" as if she was an opera singer? You can't say "no" to this stuff.

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