Various Artists

Ocean Drive Christmas, Vol. 1

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This absolutely first-rate holiday soul collection needn't necessarily be pulled out only in the 12th month of the year. The sounds of John Barker & Mark Black are so smooth and sweet that they can be taken in at any time -- producer Keith Houston has outdone himself in his selections for this 14-song CD, which mostly consists of regional talent associated at some point with the beach music scene in the Carolinas. What's more, the distaff side of the lineup is about as strong as the guys, between Rhonda McDaniel ("All I Want for Christmas") and Susan Trexler ("The Christmas Song"). Actually, in this company, the Band of Oz's "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" might be almost inappropriately loud and simplistic, and constitute the one note that doesn't fit with its surroundings, especially leading into Pat Carpenter's gorgeous, sublimely beautiful gospel-flavored "Mary Did You Know" -- but the latter is almost worth the price of admission by itself. The sound is excellent, and the only flaw is the complete lack of annotation.

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