Sony / Legacy Classic Christmas Albums (review)

The Sony/Legacy Classic Christmas Albums

A Christmas album for every step of the holidays

The series continues this year with eight new holiday collections from Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Alabama, Martina McBride, Barbara Streisand, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Neil Diamond, and George Jones & Tammy Wynette.   All of the discs grab from a variety of sources, creating a “best of the holidays” for each artist.
Last minute Christmas Shopping:  Alabama – The Classic Christmas Album

“Christmas in Dixie” was one of the first Country-crossover holiday hits, and it still sounds warm and inviting today.  There’s good humor here too – “When it Comes to Christmas” reminds us that even adults still like getting presents.   There’s enough upbeat tracks to give you motivation to fight the retail crowds.

Putting Lights on the House – Neil Diamond – The Classic Christmas Album –

Make sure you play this one at high volumes, so your neighbors think you’re completely off your rocker.  Diamond puts his signature bombast on classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “O Holy Night,” giving you the courage to teeter on that ladder.
Decorate The Tree – Martina McBride – The Classic Christmas Album 

McBride has an amazing voice.  But, she shows incredible restraint and reverence on “Silent Night,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”  The only two missteps are the fake duets – removing some of Elvis Presley’s parts on “Blue Christmas” so that she can sing them instead smacks of blasphemy, while her partnering with Dean Martin on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is just okay.
Sit By the Fire – Johnny Cash – The Classic Christmas Album –

The warmth & sincerity coming from this record is real.  Cash is joined by wife, June Carter, and family on rousing numbers like “Christmas Time’s a-Comin’.”  There’s some truth in June Carter’s honesty of how Christmas wasn’t so good without him on “Christmas With You.”  The highlight is “Christmas as I Knew It, ” a poem Cash wrote about his own holiday memories that’s spine-tingling good.

Entertain Guests – Gladys Knight & the Pips – The Classic Christmas Album –

The best tracks here have a groove to them – like the Philly-soul feel of “Jingle Bells,” or the light funk of “This Christmas.”  Hearing Knight read the “Night Before Christmas” is also quite fun.

Bake Cookies – Barbara Streisand – The Classic Christmas Album –

Full of strings, which are turned down to give Streisand’s clear, angelic voice plenty of room, she takes familiar favorites like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and gives them her own treatment.  Only a frenetic reading of “Jingle Bells” is a clunker.

Open Presents – Andy Williams – The Classic Christmas Album – 

Williams would record a whopping eight Christmas albums during his lifetime, and this collection grabs cuts from his first four.  His most-famous song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” was actually NOT released as a single back in 1963.  But, it’s grown to one of the most-played holiday tunes of all-time.  “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells” shows off Williams’ swinging side, yet most of the album is made up of ballads like “Ave Maria,” and “O Holy Night.”

Cry in Your Egg Nog – George Jones & Tammy Wynette – The Classic Christmas Album –

The most interesting album in this new series is also a little misleading.  Jones and Wynette never recorded an entire LP of holiday songs, although they did release one single: “Mr. & Mrs. Santa Claus” / “The Greatest Christmas Gift.”  Those two songs are the only actual duets included here.  The remaining 14 cuts feature either singer solo.  Seven tracks from Wynette’s lone holiday album, Christmas With Tammy are included – hearing her pronounce “White Christmas” as “Wait Christmas” is worth every penny.  George Jones never released a holiday record, so collecting various singles through the years is a real treat – especially the twangy “Maybe This Christmas,” which dates all the way back to 1957.  —Tony Peters