Real Gone Music is here to save Christmas from oversinging, too-shiny production, and weird warbles with their reissues of classic Christmas albums. One of these? Ray Conniff and the Ray Conniff Singers’ The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings. Collecting best-selling choral albums We Wish You A Merry Christmas (1962) and Here We Come A-Caroling (1965), The Complete Columbia Recordings has all of the classic Christmas songs you could possibly need, done with inspired choral arrangements and a tremendous amount of charm. It’s a retro trip back to the days of silver Christmas trees and really big record player cabinets, and it’s utterly enjoyable.
Speaking of really big record player cabinets, We Wish You A Merry Christmas sounds a bit “off” on headphones. There’s a bit of echo that takes a bit of getting used to, and it clearly sounds better not being pumped directly into one’s ears, instead coming from speakers. Though, on headphones, you can dissect the harmonies in the separate channels (if that’s what you’re into).
We Wish You A Merry Christmas, the first disc of The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings, focuses on secular music primarily, save for a lovely version of “Greensleeves (What Child Is This),” that features some clever vocal figures from the men’s chorus. Instead, we are treated to a zippy “Here Comes Santa Claus,” in which a tenor is seriously going big in the right channel, a jazzily syncopated “White Christmas,” a gently swinging “Winter Wonderland” and a mesmerizing “Ring Christmas Bells,” (a.k.a. “Carol Of The Bells,” that Ray Conniff, taking liberties, yo). An inspired version of “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” features some incredible sopranos and subtly changed lyrics. Their take on “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” is sassy and hip with extra verses that should be immediately added to your repertoire.
One of the highlights of The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings are the medleys from We Wish You A Merry Christmas. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas/The Little Drummer Boy” is a clever medley that works quite nicely, with a lovely female chorus and the men providing percussive vocals. “O Holy Night/We Three Kings Of Orient Are/Deck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly,” another medley with surprisingly long titles, boasts a great exotic Spanish beat for “We Three Kings” and a wacky “Deck The Halls” (a male vocalist proclaims “Girls! I’m under the mistletoe!” and that guy sounds drunk the whole way through). The thoughtful transitions on “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!/Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep)/We Wish You A Merry Christmas” are a miracle of Conniff’s fine arrangements.
Here We Come A-Caroling is a leap in musical style, with Conniff boldly arranging classic carols inventively. The title track is lively and propulsive with bright musical accompaniment. “Silent Night, Holy Night” has gentle, folky guitar and moments of stunning a capella. Spanish influences creep in the arrangements of “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” “Joy To The World” embraces a swinging 1960s beat and lets the sopranos run wild, singing high and free. “Adoramus Te” is a showstopper, nearly a capella (subdued bass and the occasional chime), and completely gorgeous.
If anything deserved being called a stereophonic record, it is Ray Conniff’s The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings. It’s pleasantly old school, and delightfully so. The harmonies and arrangements are wonderful, and it evokes a warm, cozy nostalgia.
The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings was released on September 21 by Real Gone Music.