Christmas and the blues might seem at first like a strange combination, given that the music of the holiday season is usually joyful, hopeful, and bright, but no other time of the year is so good at showing you what you don't have, and what you can't get, and if you have the blues at Christmas, well, it's going to be a pretty heavy dose. This generous two-disc set from Document Records features 52 tracks of vintage African-American Christmas-themed blues and gospel pieces (with a couple of street sermons thrown in) recorded between 1925 and 1955, ranging from down-and-out laments and jailhouse moans to surprising (and occasionally risqué) requests for what Santa can bring down the chimney. Highlights on the first disc include the opening track, the joyous "Christ Was Born on Christmas Morn," recorded in 1925 by comedian and female impersonator Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon; Harry Crafton's "Bring That Cadillac Back" (a Cadillac might not be the best gift if your girlfriend likes to ramble) from 1947; Tampa Red's amazing, ringing slide guitar tone on "Christmas and New Year's Blues" from 1936; and the bizarre, disturbing field recording of "Junior's a Jap Girl's Christmas for His Santa Claus," sung by Willie Blackwell for Alan Lomax in Arkansas in 1942. Other high points include the charming "Christmas Boogie," recorded in 1950 by piano prodigy (he was only ten years old when this recording was made) Frankie "Sugar Chile" Robinson and the intense, bottled-up street-corner sermon "The Wrong Way to Celebrate Xmas," recorded by Rev. Edward Clayborn in 1928. The second disc yields even more holiday gems, including the bottleneck guitar attack of Black Ace (Babe Karo Lemon Turner) on 1937's "Christmas Time Blues (Beggin' Santa Claus)"; Leroy Carr's stark and brilliant "Christmas in Jail" from 1929; a breezy, bouncing "When Jesus Was Born" by gospel harmony quartet the Sons of Heaven (who were really the Selah Jubilee Singers doing a little moonlighting -- which they did often, also recording as the Jubilators, the Southern Harmonaires, and the Larks) from 1948; and the sparse, stunning "Christmas Time Blues" by the mysterious Boll Weavil (Willie McNeil), also from 1948. A marvelous collection, Blues, Blues Christmas is a refreshing addition to the more standard holiday material that prevails during the season.
Blues, Blues Christmas: 1925-1955 Review
by Steve Leggett