|Various Artists - Merry Christmas Baby (1985)|
Stanley Lewis worked as a record distributor and jukebox operator, until in 1963, encouraged by none other than Leonard Chess, he founded Jewel Records in Shreveport, Lousiana, recording gospel, blues and jazz. Six artists in all are featured on this 1985 compilation.
Jazz pianist Ronnie Kole was born in Chicago and found success in New Orleans, eventually opening the now famous club Kole's Korner. Here with his Trio he provides two great instrumentals in Winter Wonderland and Silent Night, Holy Night. Louisiana-born singer and pianist Bobby Powell moved from playing gospel in the 1950s, through blues in the '60s to soul and R&B in the '70s. Here he's represented by two versions of the same piece, a Deep Soul vocal ballad called The Bells, and the instrumental version called Bing Bong that graced the b-side of the 1971 single release.
|Rear sleeve with tracklist|
The star of the show is Charles Brown, a blues singer and pianist from Texas City whose hit Merry Christmas Baby lends its title to the album. This R&B Christmas standard was first recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore's The Blazes, and featured a young Charles Brown on piano. Perhaps the best known version today is that by Bruce Springsteen, as heard on the 2014 Car Boot Christmas cloudcast. Brown's million-selling Please Come Home For Christmas is here too, as well as his sublime Christmas In Heaven.
Merry Christmas Baby has been reissued on CD in various guises since 1985 with later re-recordings and additional tracks, although I gather that they don't add much to the original US-only LP, which is all killer and no filler.
Costing £1 in October of 2015 was Noël by Joan Baez.
|Joan Baez - Noël (1966)|
Arranged by Peter Schickele a.k.a. PDQ Bach, here Joan delivers a dozen songs, her crystal clear soprano taking centre stage. Rather than her usual folky style the orchestration is classical with a medieval feel in parts, thanks to instruments like harpsichord, recorder, lute, baroque organ and a "consort of viols". With delicate enunciation she sings Ave Maria in German and an absolutely gorgeous Cantique de Noël in French, as well as the English translation of Catalan traditional Carol of the Birds. Other seldom-heard traditionals include Down In Yon Forest and Mary's Wandering. A handful of instrumentals are slotted in; three as short intervals, and Angels We Have Heard On High as a standalone piece.
The material suits her bell-like voice well, and though the album feels a little staid in places it's still very enjoyable, especially when compared to some other artists' more syrupy Christmas output. It's quite a common sight at car boot sales and charity shops, and certainly worth picking up next time you see it. You may also be able to find the 2001 CD remaster, issued in 2001 with 6 extra tracks.
You can hear picks from both of these albums and lots more on Car Boot Christmas 2016; listen to the cloudcast on the player below or click the link to go to the Mixcloud page. Shares, comments and likes will be most welcome. Be sure to come back tomorrow, Wednesday the 21st of December, where I'll be looking a couple of very special charity shop finds!