Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let It Snow: A Holiday Musical Collection (2010 Christmas CD)

This 2010 Christmas compilation is sold exclusively at United States Postal Service outlets, and includes music by Ella Fitzgerald and The Jackson 5.

Let It Snow is the second holiday-themed compilation to be issued by Concord Music Group and sold exclusively at United States Postal Service outlets. Concord Music Group released the first last year. Titled Letters To Santa, that compilation featured tunes by Diana Krall, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. This second compilation follows the same theme, with tracks by Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme and Ray Charles.

Ella Fitzgerald

The album opens with Ella Fitzgerald's version of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" Hers is one of the best renditions of this song. But of course Ella could probably make any song sound cool. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" was written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.
Ella Fitzgerald included this song on her 1960 release Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas.

"Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

Frank Sinatra's version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is a strange creature. The music is good, but Frank sings the lyrics so earnestly - and it's such a dumb song that it really only works in jest.

Frank Sinatra is just so much better than this material. He has a fantastic voice, but it's odd hearing that voice sing this song. It's like when Richard Thompson covered Britney Spears (what was up with that?) - although Thompson definitely had a sense of humor about that one.

The best version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is that by Joseph Spence, which is included on the Dr. Demento compilation Holidays In Dementia (1995). And of course there is the classic version by Bruce Springsteen, which is included on Christmas Of Hope (1995).

"Baby, It's Cold Outside"

Ray Charles and Betty Carter do what is probably the best version ever recorded of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." It's so cool, so sexy, so much fun. It starts off with a horn, but then quickly takes on a quiet, low-key tone, which is just perfect for this song.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" isn't specifically a Christmas song, but rather a winter song. For those unfamiliar with it, this song is a conversation between a man and a woman, in which he tries to convince her to stay the night. There is also the possibility that he slipped her a mickey, as in the woman's line, "Say, what's in this drink." The man ignores the question.

"Winter Wonderland"

Jason Mraz's version of "Winter Wonderland" features a jazzy acoustic guitar which gives the tune a nice feel. But the backing vocals repeating certain lines detracts from the enjoyment of the song. This track is just over two minutes long, but feels longer. It would be nice to hear just the instrumental track with the vocals removed.

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"

Mary Chapin Carpenter's version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" is sweet and mellow. It features a nice light touch on piano. Mary Chapin Carpenter finds the heart of this song. She performs it in such a way that she seems to effortlessly tap into the listener's emotions.

"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" was written by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin. The first version was by Judy Garland in the musical Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).

"Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer"

Chris Isaak has a distinct voice. When he's at his best, his voice approaches Roy Orbison territory. And it's really a pleasure to hear him sing.

However, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" is one of the stupidest songs ever written. Chris Isaak takes it and gives it a rockabilly feel. And it almost works. But the lyrics are still the same, so it's impossible to completely rescue this song. But Isaak's version is probably as good as it can get.

"Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was written by John D. Marks.

"The Christmas Song"

So many artists have recorded versions of "The Christmas Song" over the years, but there are two renditions that really set the tone and pace, and by which all others are still measured: Nat King Cole's and Mel Torme's. Mel Torme's version is featured on this compilation. Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote this one.

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year"

Rosemary Clooney has put out some amazing recordings. Unfortunately, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" is not one of them. This song has that Hey-we're-at-the-end-of-a-musical-and-everything-is-wonderful feel. It's difficult to imagine a more sugary song. This is the kind of song you want to push in front of a bus.

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" was written by Edward Pola and George Wyle. Perhaps they could explain why there is a line about ghost stories in this song: "There'll be scary ghost stories/And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."

"Linus And Lucy (From A Charlie Brown Christmas)"

Vince Guaraldi's "Linus And Lucy" is phenomenal. The Peanuts theme should be familiar to most people. It's an instrumental track driven by piano and percussion. And then a couple of minutes in, the bass creates a great rhythm before the song returns to the main theme.

There are a lot of Christmas television specials that are played every year, and most of them are insufferable. One exception - one beautiful exception - is A Charlie Brown Christmas. And one of the elements that makes that one so good is Vince Guaraldi's music.

A little earlier this year, Concord Music Group released Vince Guaraldi Trio's Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus on CD, with several bonus tracks. Vince Guaraldi was an incredible jazz pianist.

"Wonderful Christmastime"

There is a joke that The Beatles are dying in the order of how cool they are, and that Paul McCartney will live forever. Listening to "Wonderful Christmastime," it's difficult to refute the point.

For a much better Beatle Christmas song, listen to John Lennon's "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)," or listen to the annual Christmas records The Beatles released in the 1960s.
"Wonderful Christmastime" was released as a single in 1979.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"

Let It Snow concludes with the Jackson 5's version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." It's probably impossible for anyone to dislike this song. Just listen to Michael Jackson's vocals - he had an incredible voice.

And he also does a comical spoken word bit where he says, "I did, I really did see Mommy kissing Santa Claus, and I'm going to tell my Dad." And then at the end he tells his brothers that they just have to believe him. It's kind of adorable.

This song was originally included on The Jackson 5 Christmas Album (1970).

CD Track List

  1. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Ella Fitzgerald
  2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Frank Sinatra
  3. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Ray Charles and Betty Carter
  4. Winter Wonderland - Jason Mraz
  5. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Mary Chapin Carpenter
  6. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer - Chris Isaak
  7. The Christmas Song - Mel Torme
  8. It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year - Rosemary Clooney
  9. Linus And Lucy (From A Charlie Brown Christmas) - Vince Guaraldi
  10. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jackson 5

This CD is available at U.S. Postal Service outlets during the holiday season.

(Note: I originally posted this review on November 22, 2010.)

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