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Enhance Your Holiday Celebrations with Evocative Christmas LPs from Craft Recordings

12-12-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 130

Welcome to Ho, Ho, Ho, mistletoe, and all that jazz once again! Craft Recordings brings us another selection of Christmas albums this year, and they're certain to brighten any holiday celebration. Included among Craft's offerings is an expanded reissue version of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas, available as Super Deluxe Edition CD/BluRay sets and as a digital download, as well as in enhanced content, deluxe LP versions. Another sure to be classic reissue set is the long out-of-print double LP, Punk Goes Christmas, pressed on green vinyl and offered for purchase on the recent Black Friday Record Store Day. And there are the three titles that made their way to me in time for the holidays, which include a 45 rpm, double LP, Telarc label repress of Dave Brubeck's A Dave Brubeck Christmas; also, the soulful and funkified Stax Christmas, that features selections from a diverse roster of Stax label artists; and finally, a repress of the long out-of-print Fania label Salsa holiday classic, Asalto Navideño Vol. II

The LP sets for the three albums I received were impressively good reissue packages, with heavy, tip-on style outer jackets that featured original artwork sourced from Concord's vast catalog. All were pressed on 180 gram vinyl, and were shipped inserted into Craft-branded, non-scratching, rice-paper inner sleeves. All the LPs arrived in pristine condition, and the pressings were perfectly flat, with zero visible surface defects. Let's have a listen!

Dave Brubeck, A Dave Brubeck Christmas, [2] 180 gram 45 rpm Telarc LPs: $38 MSRP

Dave Brubeck's 1996 solo piano outing, A Dave Brubeck Christmas, made its debut on the Telarc label at the point when Telarc was becoming as renowned for their jazz offerings as for the classical music titles that had always been their bread and butter. Brubeck's typically quirky and slightly off-kilter stylizations of Christmas classics alternate between totally familiar and occasionally wildly explorative renditions. Including highly improvisational versions of classics like "Silent Night," "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "What Child Is This?" and "Winter Wonderland," to name a few. Brubeck also offers originals and less well-known tunes, like "Homecoming Jingle Bells" and "Farewell Jingle Bells," along with "Run, Run, Run To Bethlehem," and "To Us Is Given." The album is a spontaneous exploration of the sacred and the profane, holiday style.

The double LP was cut at 45 rpm from the original tapes by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound; the only previous vinyl version of this title was first released as a single LP with a somewhat truncated track selection. Craft's new double album includes all the music recorded in the original sessions on LP for the very first time. I really enjoyed Brubeck's performances, and can easily recommend this album to anyone looking for something other than the usual holiday musical fare. You can order a copy of A Dave Brubeck Christmas HERE.

Stax Christmas, 180 gram Stax Records LP: $26 MSRP

Stax Christmas is a new collection of holiday funk and soul chosen from an all-star roster of Stax label artists, including the likes of Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Booker T. & The MG's, Isaac Hayes, Rufus and Carla Thomas, and Albert King. The collection features absolute classics like Otis Redding's "Merry Christmas Baby," Booker T. & The MG's jazzily soulful take on "Winter Wonderland," and Carla Thomas' soulful and bluesy version of the venerable "Blue Christmas." But you're also given a heaping helping of the Memphis Christmas experience with lesser-known chestnuts; Mavis Staples belts out "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas" and The Emotions offer a shimmering "What Do The Lonely Do At Christmas." Albert King's bluesy, and perhaps naughtier than nice "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" is bookended by Isaac Hayes' campy "The Mistletoe And Me," and The Rance Allen Group serves up an ultra-smooth, soulful version of the perennial classic "White Christmas." It's a very different, but nonetheless entertaining perspective on the Christmas experience, Memphis style.

My LP review copy arrived pressed on black 180 gram vinyl, and I also had requested the compact disc version for evaluation. In addition to the standard pressing, Stax Christmas is also being offered in limited runs pressed on white vinyl, available directly from Stax Records.com. A limited number of LPs pressed on red vinyl are also being made available exclusively for sale at black-owned independent record stores. Prior to receiving my review copies, I was under the impression that the supplied CD would contain additional bonus tracks, but that proved not to be the case. Regardless, I still found the CD to offer sound quality that was every bit the match of the excellent LP. You can order a copy of Stax Christmas HERE.

Asalto Navideño Vol. II, 180 Craft Latino/Fania LP: $30 MSRP

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original release of the Salsa holiday celebration album, Asalto Navideño Vol. II; it's the second volume of a pair of Fania label holiday classics that have long been out of print. "Asalto Navideño" loosely translates into "Christmas assault," and this highly evocative album is definitely an assault on the senses! Asalto Navideño is based on the Puerto Rican Christmas tradition of parranda (which loosely translates into "party"), which features exotic food and drink, along with music that's much more secular than religious in nature. The party typically begins at one home, where the carolers indulge themselves in excessive merriment, then proceed from one house to another, with the party of carolers growing in number as they depart from each successive stop. Holiday mayhem ensues!

Asalto Navideño Vol. II features a core of players that includes trombonist Willie Colon, vocalist Hector Lavoe, and Yomo "King of the Cuatro" Toro; the cuatro is a specialized version of the traditional Spanish acoustic guitar. The group is supplemented by an ensemble of percussionists, along with bass, piano, and additional horns; the music is both robust and powerful. While the song titles—for example, "Cantemos," "Dona Santos," and "La Banda"—don't translate well into more typical western Christmas celebrations and customs, parranda is a wildly popular tradition in Puerto Rico, for sure! I found this music to be exceptionally uplifting and entertaining—and extremely well recorded!

The masters for this reissue were cut from the all-analog original tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio; this is a really great sounding album, and the performances literally jumped from my loudspeakers! The review copy I received was pressed on 180 gram black vinyl; the LP is also being made available in a limited edition, green vinyl pressing exclusively at Fania.com. You can order a copy of Asalto Navideño Vol. II HERE.

These Excellent LPs Will Brighten Your Holidays!

In addition to the LP releases, many of these albums are available for digital streaming on most major services. And while some of the LP versions may appear to be sold out at Craft Recordings' web store, they're very likely still available from online retailers or your favorite independent record store. I found all three albums to be enlightening and entertaining—even if a serious departure from more traditional holiday music. Highly recommended!

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings