Blues, Blues Christmas: 1925-1955

Various Artists

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Blues, Blues Christmas: 1925-1955 Review

by Steve Leggett

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.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon 03:32 SpotifyAmazon
2 Titus Turner 02:38 SpotifyAmazon
3 The Cats & the Fiddle 02:38 SpotifyAmazon
4 Ralph Willis 02:43 SpotifyAmazon
5 Willie Blackwell 05:02 SpotifyAmazon
Butterbeans & Susie 03:20 SpotifyAmazon
7 Jimmy Butler 01:56 SpotifyAmazon
8 Gatemouth Moore 03:00 SpotifyAmazon
9 Doc Bagby / Harry "Fats" Crafton 02:45 SpotifyAmazon
10 Bertha "Chippie" Hill 02:56 SpotifyAmazon
11 Cecil Gant 03:00 SpotifyAmazon
12 Bumble Bee Slim 03:11 SpotifyAmazon
13 Felix Gross 02:42 SpotifyAmazon
14 Lonnie Johnson 02:43 SpotifyAmazon
Tampa Red 03:28 SpotifyAmazon
16 Amos Milburn 02:59 SpotifyAmazon
17 Julia Lee & Her Boy Friends 02:52 SpotifyAmazon
Bessie Smith 03:30 SpotifyAmazon
19 Rev. A.W. Nix 03:27 SpotifyAmazon
20 Harmon Ray 02:47 SpotifyAmazon
21 Jimmy Witherspoon 03:00 SpotifyAmazon
Pete Johnson / Big Joe Turner / Joe Turner 02:38 SpotifyAmazon
23 Frankie "Sugar Chile" Robinson 02:19 SpotifyAmazon
24 Lead Belly 02:47 SpotifyAmazon
Lightnin' Hopkins 03:18 SpotifyAmazon
26 Rev. Edward Clayborn 02:28 SpotifyAmazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Bo Carter 03:17 SpotifyAmazon
2 Black Ace 02:49 SpotifyAmazon
3 Mary Harris 03:13 SpotifyAmazon
4 Charlie Jordan 03:28 SpotifyAmazon
5 Johnny Otis Orchestra 02:47 SpotifyAmazon
6 Little Esther / Johnny Otis / Little Esther & Mel Walker / Mel Walker 03:23 SpotifyAmazon
7 Sonny Boy Williamson II 03:27 SpotifyAmazon
8 Leroy Carr 03:15 SpotifyAmazon
Kansas City Kitty & Georgia Tom 03:19 SpotifyAmazon
10 Reverend J.M. Gates 02:57 SpotifyAmazon
11 Reverend J.M. Gates 03:04 SpotifyAmazon
Blind Lemon Jefferson 02:58 SpotifyAmazon
13 Smokey Hogg 02:46 SpotifyAmazon
14 Larry Darnell 02:57 SpotifyAmazon
15 The Sons of Heaven 02:38 SpotifyAmazon
Doc Bagby / J.B. Summers 02:33 SpotifyAmazon
Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra / Sonny Parker 02:46 SpotifyAmazon
18 Roy Milton & His Solid Senders 02:32 SpotifyAmazon
Sonny Boy Williamson II 02:37 SpotifyAmazon
20 Roosevelt Sykes 02:58 SpotifyAmazon
21 Elzadie Robinson 03:23 SpotifyAmazon
22 Walter Davis 03:05 SpotifyAmazon
23 Victoria Spivey 03:30 SpotifyAmazon
24 Boll Weavil 03:09 SpotifyAmazon
Johnny Moore's Three Blazers / Floyd Dixon 03:06 SpotifyAmazon
Les Welch & His Orchestra / Mabel Scott 02:14 SpotifyAmazon
blue highlight denotes track pick