Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gettin' In The Christmas Spirit With Darlene Love!

Darlene Love - Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas (stream only)

Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul enjoys Christmas as much as any other soul, but he is usually one to warm into the Christmas spirit pretty slowly. This year, however, Thanksgiving turkey was followed by "Black Friday" shopping and trimming the Christmas tree on Sunday evening, so the Christmas spirit has come a bit early. Also helping to bring on the Christmas cheer this year are the magnificent sounds of the great Darlene Love. The kind folks at Miles High Productions forwarded me a review copy of Darlene's new CD, It's Christmas, Of Course (Shout Factory), a couple of weeks ago, but I waited until the day after Thanksgiving to play it. When I did, the Christmas spirit came upon me! Hallelujah!

Christmas music, of course, is nothing new to the versatile singer (she sang with the Blossoms, sang lead on "He's a Rebel" by the Crystals and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, and recorded a handful of singles for Phil Spector's Phillies concern) and actress (all four "Lethal Weapon" pictures and the Broadway run of "Hairspray"), who recorded the pop Christmas classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in 1963 for Spector and has performed it annually on The Late Show With David Letterman (see this You Tube clip of Love performing the classic on the show in 2006). For this new CD, Love tackles a dozen Christmas songs that have been made famous by other artists. It's a pretty ambitious project, as Love tackles everyone from James Brown ("Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto") to the Pretenders ("2000 Miles") to Charles Brown ("Please Come Home For Christmas") to John and Yoko ("Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"), but she pulls it off with a set of strong performances. The CD is available at many retailers and online at Amazon or iTunes.

When I received the CD I was surprised to see that Darlene included the Staple Singers' "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas," one of my favorite classic soul Christmas records, in the playlist, because Mavis Staples' reading of the Deanie Parker-penned song completely personalized it (Rob Bowman writes that Parker was actually peeved at Mavis' performance of the tune, because Staples kept pronouncing "merry" as "Mary"). Fortunately, Love avoids trying to impersonate Mavis' singular style, and fortunately she doesn't have to, because the great arrangement (featuring a nice electric piano-led groove and great backup vocals) really gives her room to bring her own style to the song, whose message is as timely today as it was nearly forty years ago. It's my favorite tune off the CD, and it certainly got me in the Christmas spirit; I think that when you get this CD, you'll be in the spirit, too!

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