Various Artists

Season's Greetings: 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection

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Universal Music Group's 20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection, usually devoted to mid-priced single-disc best-ofs of individual artists, here expands to a three-disc compilation of seasonal music drawn from the label's extensive catalog. Season's Greetings is a sort of rough history of holiday music, starting with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," the granddaddy of all Christmas songs, and proceeding in more or less chronological order through 36 tracks. (The less than two-hour running time would have fit easily on two discs, but a limited number of tracks is one of the hidden prices of discount releases.) This is not a thorough survey of the best and most popular Christmas recordings available to the compiler; rather, it's a bit idiosyncratic, substituting lesser-known tracks and including the occasional oddity, such as the Marvin Gaye instrumental "Christmas in the City." But it does trace the development of holiday music from a mainstream pop concern in the '40s and '50s to primarily a product of subgenres like country and black pop from the '60s on. (Artists of the rock era just haven't shown as much interest in recording Christmas songs, though there are a couple here.) By the third disc, any pretense at a broad stylistic range has been abandoned; all 12 tracks are by black pop acts. Robyn Flans' poorly written, error-filled liner notes (contrary to what she writes, the film White Christmas was not a remake of the film Holiday Inn, and the Andrews Sisters did not make "Winter Wonderland" popular, they only revived it) don't help an appreciation of the set, but it doesn't bear close scrutiny anyway. Accept the bargain price and use it as a miscellaneous addition to your holiday music collection.

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