Les McCann “A Time Les Christmas” The Abrahams Company: https://www.lesmccannxmas.com
Eric Clapton “Happy Xmas” Surfdog Records: https://surfdog.com/
Twice Grammy nominated Mindi Abair is a saxophonist, vocalist, and author. She was also the featured saxophonist for the 2011 and 2012 seasons of American Idol.
The title track “All I Got for Christmas” by (Abair, Randy Jacobs’ and Oliver Lieber) rips open the packaged proceedings with a hard-edged hit; another original “I Can’t Wait for Christmas” follows with similar grit. I thought the tempo might slowdown on the Johnny Moore – Lou Baxter “Merry Christmas Baby” but no, this version slides into the Blues pocket with a vengeance. The Phil Spector, Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry rendition “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is yet another potent romp. There’s a breather with another original (by Abair – Hager) an appealing ballad. Johnny Marks’ “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” made famous by Brenda Lee is given a shiny new wrap that’s tasteful. “The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme – Robert Wells will instrumentally roast your chestnuts on a hot open fire, “Run Run Rudolph” also by Johnny Marks with help from Marvin Brodie is Rastafarian refashioned with dreadlocks and all. Lastly “Christmas Fool” by guitarist Randy Jacobs steps out on vocals and guitar mildly accompanied by the band with handclapping concluding these merry Blues festivities.
Les McCann is a well-known performer (think “Compared to What” with Eddie Harris) decorates holiday classics with musician friends you might know like Crusaders drummer Stix Hooper, pianist Michael Wolff, bassist John Patitucci, pianist Ricky Peterson, Alex Foster’s sax, of course Les’ vocal and piano, with other fine players. At eighty-three Les sounds compelling radiating his love of Christmas. Standouts include the opening “Merry Christmas Baby” featuring crispy guitar from Josh Sklair. Michael Wolff smartly tickles the ivories on the Julie Styne-Sammy Cahn classic “Let It Snow,” with bassist John Patitucci. Les and Maxayn Lewis jolly vocal duet will bring Saint Nick smiles as these two giggle their way through “Baby it’s Cold Outside” sprinkled with Wolff’s brief and sugary piano solo. Donny Hathaway’s uplifting “This Christmas” is a nice addition especially with Ricky Peterson’s electric piano fills and solo. Then there’s the heartfelt “The Gift” (authored by producers Alan Abrahams, Nic. tenBroek, and McCann) glows with love. My favorite (authored by Les) “My Christmas Heart” instrumental finds McCann at the piano in a trio setting with bassist Del Atkins and Stix Hooper radiates and soars; man oh man Les really gets down on this one. “A Time Les Christmas” concludes with a brief reading of the traditional “Away in a Manger” that places a nice big bow on this warm Christmas recording.
Eric Clapton’s “Happy Xmas” is his first full studio holiday album. “Happy Xmas” mixes familiar holiday classics with lesser-known tunes plus a new original “For Love On Xmas Day,” authored by co-producers Clapton and Simon Climie with Dennis Morgan.
Irving Berlin’s “White Xmas” is given a Blues intro that smolders like Yule logs on a fire. The aforementioned original “For Love on Xmas Day” is a ballad that’s tender and seemingly autobiographical with morbid words like “dying a little more each day,” yet these words receive an elevating twist ending reprise; “yes I’m dying — for love on Xmas day” it’s very touching. The William Bell – Booker T. Jones “Everyday Will Be like a Holiday” gets a tinseled makeover, as does a cover Clapton previously recorded on “A Very Special Christmas Live,” the Sonny Thompson – Robert Wilson “Xmas Tears” which was long ago recorded by Clapton’s pal: Freddy King. Checkout the heady instrumental take; “Jingle Bells,” musically it doesn’t (jingle all the way) until the background singers chime in, it’s certainly not traditional, but I dug the groove, which is dedicated to (recent) apparent suicide victim: Swedish DJ Avicii who struggled with alcohol abuse. I’m unfamiliar with “It’s Xmas” by Anthony Hamilton, Brandon Davis and Kelvin Wooten, it’s a solid inclusion that’s upbeat and rocking, speaking of which note the raucous Lloyd Glenn cover of “Lonesome Xmas” it’s classic Bluesman Clapton. There’s additional straight Blues covering Johnny Moore’s “Merry Xmas Baby” with a pair of gritty Clapton solos. “Happy Xmas” wraps with the Hugh Martin – Ralph Blaine chestnut “Have Yourself a Merry Little Xmas” a fitting ending to Clapton’s Xmas gift of joyful tunes.
“Happy Xmas” is Clapton’s twenty-fourth studio album, the album also features cover art illustrations by Clapton himself. Back when Clapton was given the title of God, how about for “Happy Xmas” let’s crown Mr. Clapton: Santa Clapton-Claus.
(Note) Either Clapton or someone in his camp always spelled all song titles as: Xmas (including Clapton’s handwritten cover renderings.) Most (or all) were originally spelled: Christmas. Though I purposely left the name of the album I referenced as “A Very Special Christmas Live” titled the way it is actually written and spelled on the cover.
Every year it’s harder and harder to find new and previously unreleased Christmas Holiday recordings. So I’m thankful to Mindi Abair, Les McCann and Eric Clapton for traditionally carrying on with these three festive albums. Merry Christmas to everyone! Ho – Ho – Ho.
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