Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Phil's Top Christmas Albums

I really can't rank these.  These are just my favorites, and they are for various reasons.

I mentioned before I like classic jazz Christmas music, and for a Classic Jazz Christmas album, you cannot beat Columbia Records' "Jingle Bell Jazz".   I bought this album on vinyl years ago and I NEVER get tired of it.  The CD version dropped one track, but it was the track I liked the least, so I wasn't too bothered by that.  Dexter Gordon's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is quite possibly my favorite version of this song, and Duke Ellington's "Jingle Bells" is hands down my favorite version of what is honestly at it's core a pretty dull song. But not when the Duke took it on. That cat layed that tune out and decked the hall for all time with it, and it kicks!  Plus Bob Dorough's "Merry X-Mas to Whom It May Concern" (w Miles Davis) is a "modern" classic. Gotta say I prefer the original vinyl cover art, though.

Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas".  This is consistently a top Christmas album every year.  It's classic jazz, and it has some songs that at least at first were not the same carols you hear over and over and over again -- but many have since been recorded and re-recorded and have become classics on their own -- most notably, "Christmastime is Here".  Even the standards have an off-kiltered innocence to them.  This is one reason I like Jazz Christmas music.  It's the same song ... but it's not!  Plus, this album is the source of the original song most associated with Peanuts, "Linus and Lucy".

Doris Day's "Personal Christmas Collection".  I just discovered this a few years ago after hearing "Old Saint Nicholas" on another great classic Christmas collection (a series of releases called "Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails") and I sought her album out.  This is a solid Christmas album.  There's a reason Doris Day was a popular singer - she had a great voice and knew how to use it!  It is easily one of my favorite Christmas albums.

The Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails Series.  Not so much an album but a series of albums.  Several original classic versions of classic Christmas songs.  Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Dean Martin, Julie London, Nat Cole, June Christy, Les Brown, Stan Kenton, Johnny Mercer, Lena Horn  ... I mean ... what are you waiting for?

The Roches "We Three Kings".  I first saw a Roches ablum when I worked at Whizz Records back in my College days.  The self-titled "The Roches".  It was intriguing.  But then one night I saw them on Johnny Carson.  Quirky, irreverent, great harmonies (and they can also sing badly on purpose, which is harder than you think when you are good)... when they came out with a Christmas album I was torn.  I loved the group, but I don't like irreverent Christmas Music for the most part.  I thought this is either going to be really really good, or really really bad.  It is great.  Apparently also released with an alternate album cover.

Rhino Records' "Blue Yule".  Of my three Blues Christmas CD's, this was my first and still the best, album cover art notwithstanding.  Louis Jordan, Lightnin' Hopkins, Canned Heat, John Lee Hooker ...  My other two are the Alligator Records Christmas Collection, and Blues, Mistletoe, and Santa's Little Helper.

The Sixteen, "Christmas Music from Medieval and Renaissance Europe".  For when you need to remember the reason for the season, the real meaning of Christmas.  The later in the Christmas season, the more traditional I like my Christmas music until by Christmas I'm practially listening to Church Music, and I mean renaissance Catholic Cathedral music.  It doesn't get any more traditional than this, and "Quem Pastores Laudavere" still makes the hair on the back of my head stand on end.

King's College Choir, "Christmas at Kings".   Can't beat King's College for Choir Music.  This IS Christmas Music.  Real Christmas Music.  (Not Beethoven Christmas music - Lucy Van Pelt) ;-)   Wow, knock your socks off Christmas Music.  Yeah. 

Dean Shostak, "Crystal Carols".  Ever see anybody play the glass bowls - you know, like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality?  Wet fingers, and glasses and glass bowls filled with varying levels of water?  Well, this is way better.  Benjamin Franklin invented an instrument called a Glass Armonica which was basically a spindle with different sizes of glass bowls on it that you spun and "played" with your fingers.  It makes one of the most ethereal sounds you'll ever hear, and it lends itself very well to Christmas Music.  Dean Shostak has obliged us.  I have a friend, though, who is looking for "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" on Glass Armonica.  If you know of a version, drop me a line.

Rita Ford, "A Music Box Christmas".  Nothing says 19th Century Christmas like music boxes.  There's just something magical about them.  Simple and complex at the same time.  Details.  Precision.  And the stupid electronic music boxes of today are an insult to their memory.   I love this collection.

I discovered this one this year, Westminster Concert Bell Choir - "Christmas at Westminster".  Like music boxes, there's just something about the clear, ringing tones of metal, and these folks are real pro's.  A little organ music splashed in, but definitely in the background ... accompaniment to the bells, not out in front.  I'd like to find one that's JUST bells sometime, but this is good stuff!

Christmas With the Chicago Chamber Brass. I was at my brother's house over Christmas back in the early to mid 1980's and he had KWMU public radio on.  I was recording Christmas music on my tape recorder.  Later, when I listened to the tape, there was an incredible sequence of tunes all from this album, tracks 19 through 25 and it built and built and finished with a bang.  I looked for this album for years.  I mean like 10 or more years. Finally had a guy at a local independent record store order it for me.  2 weeks after it came in, the guy closed his doors for good.  Now you can order it easily on the net.  Great brass Christmas album, and nothing says Christmas like Brass!

Christmas Guitar, instrumental acoustic guitar ... is some of my favorite Christmas music. The warm sound of the wood resonator evokes a crackling fire in the fireplace and soft light of a Christmas tree on a winter's evening.  I bought a Christmas Guitar album back when I was in the Musical Heritage Society record club by Stephen Siktberg called "Christmas Guitar".  I can't find it anywhere on line, but it's my go-to guitar Christmas Album.

Doug Smith put out a beautiful guitar Christmas album.  John Fahey put out three or four, and one of my favorites is the instruction CD of Steve Kauffman that came with his Mel Bay Christmas Guitar book.  So I need to sort this one out, but an acoustic guitar Christmas album would about wrap this up.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  But it's a pretty well balanced one.  There are other great ones like the Manhattan Transfer's Christmas Album, jazzy and lush, alternately and sometimes at the same time.  The Phil Spector (later-in-life murdering aside) Christmas Album, David Lanz's "Solstice", and the first "Merry Axemas" cd for rock guitar (Eric Johnson's "The First Nowell" alone is worth buying this album).  But.... that's all we're doing this year.

Merry Christmas!

Top Christmas Album Covers

That I own.

Obviously ... this comes from my love for classic pinup art ;-)

Coming it at #3, it's Diana Krall's "Christmas Songs" album, with her lavish green dress and just about perfectly shaped calves.  Plus, the music is mostly classic Krall -- piano trio jazz sound applied to Christmas music.  Good album.  Well done.

#2 is Blacktop Records' Blues, Mistletoe, and Santa's Little Helper.   Classic pinup pose with the feathery and red "Santa" suit.  For a while, at least, you could even get a poster of the album cover from them.  As a Bluesey Christmas album, it's pretty good.

And at #1, it's Blue Note Records' "Yule Struttin'", and we can all see why.  Any woman with a pair like that would have reason to strut.  The monochrome look compliments the classic jazz inside.  Again, good Christmas album as well.  I love Jazz Christmas music, especially early in the season.

However, this post is about album covers only.  Next post will be about my Top Christmas Albums -- musically speaking.

Update - See also: Phil's Top Christmas Albums

Friday, December 11, 2009


The other night I was having a dream.

In the dream, I was in a bed.  The room wasn't bright, but it wasn't dark either.  My back was to the room, and I had a sheet over me, pulled tight up to my neck.

I sensed an evil presence behind me.  I didn't want to, but I knew I had to face it and deal with it.  No idea what it was or what I was going to do about it, but it was a situation that needed assessing.

I tried to turn over.  I couldn't.  My muscles would tense up, but my body wouldn't move... just tiny bits that didn't amount to anything.  I was trying to stay calm, but the more I tried and failed to turn over, the more panicked I got.  The panic finally woke me up.

Vicki was behind me, here in real life, I had my back to her.  She was struggling and starting to panic.  As I normally do when she's in this state, I tried to wake her up, but she kept panicking more and more until she let out a very loud, terrified animal scream, sounding almost like a moose trumpeting.

My hair stood out, straight, I'm sure.  I reassured her it was nothing, that everything was ok.

She asked if I had been leaning over her.  I said no, not really, I had kind of sat up on one elbow and had tried to nudge her awake, but that was it.

She said in her dream she was on an white iron bed somewhere, and a man had her pinned down and was going to kill her.  So my trying to wake her up probably played right into that dream.

Usually it's spiders or snakes.  Not this time.

Anyway, it started to creep me out that I had a dream that my back was to an evil presence I needed to deal with, and at the same time Vicki was having a dream right behind me about someone trying to kill her.  I got goosebumps.  The possibility that some evil presence had triggered the simultaneous dreams seemed pretty real to me at the time.

Vicki asked if the door downstairs was locked -- Kevin and Marken had been there and they take the dogs out that way.  They're usually pretty good about locking.

Well after all that I had to get up and check, or there'd be NO going back to sleep.

I grabbed a gun and made my way through the house, clearing rooms, down to the back door downstairs.

It wasn't locked.

I locked it, and finished clearing the basement and re-checked upstairs before returning to bed.  Took a couple of hours for me to get back to a solid sleep after that.

I am "Papa"

Yay!  Finally. 

We had Thanksgiving Saturday with the boys and their families.   Started with the traditional Strawberry Crepes in the morning.   Turkey and pie in the late afternoon and evening.  Vicki made some homemade cranberry sauce and got some really really good frozen corn that Trenton loved (and surprisingly he was a big fan of the cranberries as well).

Also, right after dinner he was coming around the table and pointed at me and with very soft "p's" said "Papa".  First time.  And only time, so far.  But he got it right.  He's bursting with almost words.

"Bob" ... or "Robert the Construction Worker" as I call him, he's got down, as well as Nana, Dada, and Mama.  I think he's got "dog" down pretty well, too, and he's trying lots of others.

Kevin and Marken brought a Wii and we played a bit with that.  Trenton actually got interested in the bowling game when he saw how the remote makes things happen on the screen.  If he'd learn to use the button at the same time, he could probably actually bowl himself.  He has the swinging motion down.

We lined up for our Christmas picture, and I got to use my new LightSphere that Megan recoomended to me (Thanks, Megan!). 

Sunday Kevin and Marken left for St. Louis -- Kevin had a small job he needed to get to.   I went out the same time Brian and Kristin did to get a tree.  Got a nice one.  $80!!!   Is it really that nice?  Well, it is pretty nice.  A beautiful Noble Fir.

Got the lights up on it last night.

Tonight's Rob and Kathy's party, and this weekend will be a whirlwind of tree decorating, babysitting, cookie baking, candy making ... let the Christmas Music roll!!!! (I hold out until about this time for the most part, sneaking a few in only here and there.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009


On the way to work this morning.... a little traffic backup.  This is what caused it.