Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Booker T. & The MG’s: In The Christmas Spirit

Given that everybody allowed near a microphone in the 21st century has recorded a Christmas album, sometimes you just want to get away from yet another version of a song that’s been sung many times in many ways. That’s why we usually reach for the nearest holiday CD that’s instrumental. But even those can sound alike after a while, particularly if they’re in the same old easy listening, jazz, or classical mode. At the same time, rock ‘n roll takes on the catalog tend to lose their novelty after a while, even if only played a couple of weeks out of the year.
That’s what makes In The Christmas Spirit by Booker T. & The MG’s such a welcome respite season after season. A combo best known for the classic “Green Onions” and sharing the guitarist and bass player with the Blues Brothers, here the band serves up a dozen favorites in the same Memphis R&B groove that established them as the Stax Records house band. Hammond B-3 organ takes center stage for most of it, with tasteful Telecaster and percolating bass over perfectly syncopated drums.
Having originally been issued as two sides of a record, the first half is more upbeat, with the usual suspects (“Jingle Bells”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Silver Bells”, etc.) while the second takes a slower pace, starting with a bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby”, staying quiet for “Silent Night”, “We Three Kings” and the like, which sound for all the world like church if not for the ticking snare drum. Just to remind you who they are, the set picks up at the very end with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”.
Like most albums of the time, In The Christmas Spirit is short, but likely to get repeat plays once it’s loaded up. We haven’t figured out why the album had two different covers a year apart over here; adding to the confusion, it was called Soul Christmas—not to be confused with an entirely different compilation—with another alternative for the artwork overseas. As for the extraneous apostrophe in the band’s name, we’ll leave the blame with the record company.

Booker T. & The MG’s In The Christmas Spirit (1966)—4

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