november 2010 header
border crossings

Jackson 5, ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’

Various Artists
Concord Records

Everyone needs stamps at Christmas time, and this year the U.S. Postal Service is making it easy to pick up some musical holiday cheer while tending to those mailing duties. The USPS and Concord Records have teamed up on a tasty 11-song festival of holiday songs, some drawn from artists in the Concord Records Group family, a handful of others licensed from other sources, and the whole working wonderfully as a pleasant, stylistically diverse overview of holiday performances both vintage and contemporary.

Jason Mraz offers a scintillating, syncopated reading of his increasingly anthologized “Winter Wonderland,” featuring his soft, soothing voice and briskly plucked gut-string guitar, a little scat passage and spirited support from his bandmates in a performance destined, it seems, to become a seasonal standard if only on the strength of its playful attitude and cool vibe. From his 2004 Christmas album, Chris Isaak gets it going on a rockabilly-fired treatment of Johnny Marks’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with the added textural treat of an Augie Myers-style cheesy organ riffing throughout. On the torchy side, Mary Chapin Carpenter probes a winsome version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” in a sensitive, introspective reading cushioned by a small combo of bass, acoustic guitar and brush drums, with acoustic piano enhancing the meditative mood.

Jason Mraz, ‘Winter Wonderland’

The more familiar entries include the king of all Christmas fare, Frank Sinatra, offering a jolly, swinging “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” originally released in 2004 on the Chairman’s The Christmas Collection as a previously unissued Nelson Riddle-arranged recording from the 1957 ABC television show Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank. This version restores the five-second cornet intro missing from the Christmas Collection track, but otherwise is intact and jolly as ever in a bright Riddle arrangement bristling with exuberant horn blasts, a very un-Riddle-like approach more akin to the brassy style of another of Sinatra’s favorite arrangers, Billy May. The CD takes its title from Ella Fitzgerald’s rousing, sax-fueled workout on “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” from her 1960 Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas with arranger Frank DeVol on which this remarkable vocalist is in breathtaking sync with DeVol’s lively arrangements, resulting in a performance in which a spirited Ella matches the drive of her energetic percussionists. Pure seasonal smoldering lust gets no better—or more heated—than the sultry 1961 Ray Charles-Betty Carter pas de deux on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” when Carter’s high-pitched resistance to Ray’s suggestive, seductive entreaties constitutes a moment of hilarious, perfectly tuned sexual tension. Latter-era Rosemary Clooney serves up a cheerful, full orchestra-and-chorus arrangement of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of the Year,” and the holiday experience from opposite ends of the emotional spectrum is represented on one hand by Mel Tormé’s romantic crooning over a subdued orchestral arrangement of his “The Christmas Song” and on the other by Vince Guaraldi’s romping, shuffling “Linus and Lucy” theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Let It Snow comes out a winner when it tops off its festivities with Paul McCartney’s burbling, synth-driven “Wonderful Christmastime” (1979) and the album closing delight, the Jackson 5’s playful “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (from the brothers’ essential 1970 holiday present, Jackson 5 Christmas Album) in a rich arrangement with chimes, galloping bells and a deep, soulful groove laid down by the rhythm section; on top of this soars young Michael at the very peak of his upper range, holding a high note impossibly long, and fully into his role as the kid who tries to convince his siblings that he saw what he saw. Note: the CD is packaged with a DVD of 1964’s animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special.  Available only at U.S. Postal Service outlets.

Chris Isaak, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024