Oh how time flies. Can it be a whole year since I blogged about Christmas music the first time? Well apparently it is and this year rather than just try and recommend Chrissie sounds of a non-traditional nature I thought I’d present the two extremes, polar opposites you might say, of what’s available for Christmas listening. For, in my mind anyway, there is no middle ground with yuletide musical recordings – you either go with “hip” (and impress everyone with your restrained and therefore tolerable approach to creating festive “ambience”) or throw caution (and taste) to the wind and revel in the opportunity to indulge in some good old-fashioned Christmas cheesiness.
So let’s see how the musos duke it out in the ring, shall we?
In the Cool corner we have the elder statesman of Cool, Tony Bennett. Maybe he’s old-skool, maybe he’s an octogenarian but if what you’re after is a bit of crooning to go with your Christmas cocktails then you’d be hard-pressed to find a better exponent of the art than Anthony Dominick Benedetto. Teaming up with the Count Basie Big Band on A Swingin’ Christmas he’s made himself a formidable foe in this musical slug-fest.
Team Cheese have taken a sturdy blow to the breadbasket from Mr Bennett but rally with the help of the tag-team duo of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, whose album Once upon a Christmas is straight from 1984 and is full of tinsel-laden, down home, err “charm”. I’d forgotten just how huge this duet machine was. They owned eighties country schmaltz. And so Rogers and Parton land a fearsome one-two punch that sends the Cool corner staggering.
Lest you think all country Christmas albums are cheesy (who could blame you?), Johnny Cash gives Dolly and Kenny a good slapping with The Christmas collection. It may be country but Cash’s hipster cool credentials are unassailable. Back-up in the Cool-Country-Christmas sub-genre (not that he needs any) is provided in the form of one Mary Chapin Carpenter and her album Come darkness, come light : twelve songs of Christmas.
Christmas Cheese is by no means out for the count though as the festive stylings of Clay Aiken give Cool a swift kick to the shins. If Christmas standards sung with a slight lisp are your thing then Merry Christmas with love comes highly recommended.
Dave Brubeck takes his fingers off the piano briefly to put Clay in a headlock with A Dave Brubeck Christmas but in a surpise move fellow pianist Barry Manilow’s roundhouse kick is A Christmas gift of love that Brubeck wasn’t counting on.
So after the battle royale who comes out on top? Personally my money’s on Cheese. There’s just so much of it to enjoy. Why, I hadn’t even got round to the efforts of Lionel Richie, Anne Murray or the perennial Cliff Richard. Cool may be, well…cool but Cheese has the numbers every time.
What’re your thoughts? At Christmas time do you prefer Cool or Cheese and who are your favourite examples?