The Alley Cats

Street Corner Carols

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Over the years, all kinds of American artists have recorded Christmas music -- rock, soul, country, blues, dance-pop, folk, adult contemporary, you name it. Hard bop instrumentalists have used "Winter Wonderland" as a vehicle for jazz improvisation and hardcore rappers have written Christmas rhymes (Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rapping" is a great party song even in August). Streetcorner Carols finds a vocal quartet calling themselves the Alley Cats offering a doo wop-oriented take on Christmas standards. Although this pleasant, if unremarkable, album came out in 2001, the performances recall the '50s; the Alley Cats are mindful of classic doo wop groups like the Platters, the Flamingos, the Drifters, and the Five Satins. And while the Alley Cats aren't in a class with those outfits, Streetcorner Carols is competent and likable. A few of the songs are traditional carols that are in the public domain, including "Away in a Manger" and "The First Noel" -- public domain meaning that under intellectual property laws, artists don't have to pay royalties or get permission to record a particular song. Had the Alley Cats decided to record the European Christmas carol "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman" (which isn't on this album), they wouldn't need anyone's permission. But for the most part, the quartet doesn't get into European carols. Their main focus is American Christmas pop standards of the 20th century, and that includes everything from "Jingle Bell Rock" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to "Let It Snow," "Winter Wonderland," "White Christmas," and Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song." Streetcorner Carols isn't exceptional, but it's a likable illustration of how Christmas music can be relevant to '50s-style doo wop.

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