Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Kingston Trio: “The Last Month Of The Year” (1960/2014) CD Review

It’s just about that time of year again, when Christmas will do its best to impose itself on every waking moment of our lives. One unescapable element of the season is Christmas music, so each year I’m on the lookout for good holiday songs, because so much of it is just awful. Well, one album I’ll be adding to my play list this year is The Kingston Trio’s The Last Month Of The Year. It was originally released in 1960, when the group still had all its original members, and is getting a nice re-issue through Real Gone Music, complete with new, extensive liner notes by Tom Pickles.

This album of course features those wonderful voices, but another thing I appreciate is that it includes only one typical Christmas song – “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (this version featuring the frightening line, “Why can’t we have Christmas the whole year around” – oh, dear god, no!). The rest are much more interesting, a mix of European sounds, spirituals and traditional folk. Not your typical Christmas fare, and for that I am thankful.

The Last Month Of The Year opens with a pretty, though serious song, “Bye, Bye Thou Tiny Little Child,” about the Massacre of the Innocents, a story from The Bible in which King Herod calls for the death of all male children in the area. Their voices sound absolutely perfect, and they follow it with another gorgeous and somewhat haunting song, “The White Snows Of Winter,” in which a man searches for his love. “It soon will be Christmas/Bells will be ringing/Bring us another round/But here in the white of a cold winter night/My love cannot be found.” There is something delicate about the music, which works so well with the story of this song, as it keeps us wondering how things will turn out.

“All Through The Night” is a sweet and beautiful lullaby. Their voices sound particularly wonderful on this track, with even an a cappella moment: “Children’s dreams cannot be broken/Life is but a lovely token.” Just beautiful. “While the weary world is sleeping all through the night/Through your dreams, you’re swiftly stealing visions of delight revealing/Christmas time is so appealing all through the night.” This is one of the CD’s best tracks. It’s followed with a more lively lullaby, “Goodnight My Baby,” a fun and catchy song in which the parents wish their baby boy a good night. This one is truly delightful, another of my favorites.

“Go Where I Send Thee” is a spiritual, and this version by The Kingston Trio is a really good and interesting mix of gospel and folk, and is another highlight of the CD. This one really shows the power of their vocals, not just their beauty.

“Mary Mild” is kind of an odd tale in which Jesus wants to play ball with other kids. But they won’t let him play with them due to their elitist hatred for the poor. So Jesus uses his heavenly powers for revenge. And it all has an eerily sweet and innocent tone. It’s kind of an amazing track, certainly unusual, especially for what is purportedly a Christmas album. The original song, titled “The Bitter Withy,” features a few more verses, in which Mary beats Jesus after the other children are drowned.

The Last Month Of The Year ends with its title track, an interesting gospel tune which, according to the disc’s liner notes, “originated among the slaves of the American South, who supposedly used it as a way of teaching their children the order of the months of the year.”

CD Track List

  1. Bye, Bye Thou Tiny Little Child
  2. The White Snows Of Winter
  3. We Wish You A Merry Christmas
  4. All Through The Night
  5. Goodnight My Baby
  6. Go Where I Send Thee
  7. Follow Now, Oh Shepherds
  8. Somerset Gloucestershire Wassail
  9. Mary Mild
  10. A Round About Christmas
  11. Sing We Noel
  12. The Last Month Of The Year (What Month Was Jesus Born In)

This special re-issue of The Last Month Of The Year is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 through Real Gone Music.

1 comment:

  1. It's a special album, all right. Here's my take: