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Saturday, November 5, 2011

King of the Holidays?

There's no doubt in my mind that Jews put out the best Christmas albums. Think about it: Mitch Miller! Phil Spector! Bette Midler! Barbra Streisand! Bob Dylan! And, now, here comes Carole King a-caroling.

And while we're on the subject of Jews and Christmas, let's discuss The Sound of Music. This film has little to do with either Jews or Christmas, actually, but has become a holiday-season fave on tv. Don't get me wrong; I love the songs and the film is a guilty pleasure for me. (I always tear up when the Mother Superior (Peggy Wood) sings "Climb Every Mountain.") But does anyone really think Nazis chasing singing Christian families across the Alps was ever a huge problem worthy of this much attention?

Let's get back to Carole and her new album, A Holiday Carole. Damned if the first song isn't "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. It's done to a samba-like arrangement and, along with that iconic voice, it really works. (I don't know how Julie Andrews feels.)

The following number is "Carol of the Bells" with full chorus back-up; quite intense. I liked very much.

Louise Goffin (daughter of Carole and her ex (legendary co-composer from their Brill Building days, Gerry Goffin)) produced this album, with radically varying results. Some of the songs are wonderful; for others -- if played in an elevator (where they'd be well suited), -- I'd press the button to get off on the very next floor to avoid any more torture. The strain, wear and tear on Carole's 69-year-old voice shows in these tracks, and the arrangements and production seem oddly mechanical and shallow. "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," in particular, sounds cold and shabby. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," a song you'd think Carole could do boffo, is sadly undernourished. Don't worry about Judy Garland's and Chrissie Hynde's associations with this number; they remain unchallenged here.

I wanted, so badly, to like Carole's "Chanukah Prayer" (sung in Hebrew), because the only Chanukah song I know is "The Dreidel Song." I personally hate the whole Christmas hegemony over other spiritual belief systems, really. (Dj Buddy B won't be insisting upon overly-romanticized and inaccurate Nativity scenes being displayed, for example.) "Chanukah Prayer," sung with Louise, and Carole's grandson (Louise's son), turns out to be a big, nepotistic yawn.

Yet, there are bright moments from Ms King here,too: the calypso "Christmas Paradise," "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday," "This Christmas," and "New Year's Day."

It's probably so hard to direct your own mom, but geez, Louise, that's what you needed to do to have a terrific holiday album from a pop diva as part of the holiday music canon. This is a mixed holiday grab-bag and a missed opportunity.

Goyem like Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis run rings around this. Inexcusable.


  1. Oh, what a shame. I always look forward to the Xmas releases, but may have to pass on this one. "Carole King a-Caroling" . . . very cute. If you get Michael Buble's, let me know. I've not completely jumped on the Buble bandwagon.

  2. I agree we Jews do know how to best push out the December commercial records (x-mas that is).

    You only know "The Dreidel Song" because there is not really any Hebrew Liturgical music that is for the masses - even us Jews avoid the Shul on this festival holding up the mostly American tradition of no participation.

    Contemporary composers have given us the likes of "Beams of Gentle Light" and so on - but really?

    Kindle your tapers, encourage them to burn bright and recite the prayers like me in your own personal key of convenience musically.

    And for the sake of sales and children and grandchildren's college tuitions I hope this like the ones before sell out quickly.

  3. Daniel, I think even non-Jewish artists put out Christmas albums with commercial intents the primary goal.

    "You only know 'The Dreidel Song' because there is not really any Hebrew Liturgical music that is for the masses" -- absolutely true. (Or any liturgical songs for the masses?) Bette Midler was asked, in a tv interview in the US, why her Xmas album included no Chanukah songs. She laughed,"That would have to be a 45!" We need more Chanukah pop tunes!

  4. ps: I did have a music teacher in grade school who taught us her self-penned song, "Who took the 'Hahn' Out of Chakukah?" (I kid you not.) I couldn't recommend it for a holiday album, however.