The Spirit Of Christmas (Remastered)
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/07/2009
Ray Charles was such a celebrity during the last decade of his life that sometimes it is easily forgotten just what a huge influence he exerted upon American music. From his first releases in the early 1950’s until his death in 2004 at the age of 73, he established a catalogue of music that has rarely been equaled by any other artist.
I find it amazing that he did not issue a Christmas album until 1985. The Spirit Of Christmas was originally released on vinyl and has been reissued several times in CD form, but none match the clarity of this 2009 remastered version.
The album was a moderate seller upon its release but received a great deal of attention several years later when one of its tracks became well-known as a part of the movie Christmas Vacation. As Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold watches old movies of family Christmases, it is “That Spirit Of Christmas” playing in the background. It is one of the finest Christmas performances you can find, as Charles’s subdued and relaxed vocal gets the words and intent of the song just right. Here, you receive the full five-minute version.
There are a number of well-known secular seasonal songs that receive his unique treatment here. “Little Drummer Boy” uses a steel guitar and a horn section to support his bluesy lead vocal. “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” has a swinging jazzy feel, which is far from what Gene Autry had in mind. Charles even manages to make the over-recorded “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” not only listenable, but actually very good.
He goes in a different direction with some lesser-known songs: “Christmas Time” and “Christmas In My Heart” both return him to his rhythm and blues vocal roots.
There is one bonus track on this disc. “Baby Its Cold Outside” is a duet with Better Carter, recorded in the early ‘60s. It was a traditional pop song written by Frank Loesser, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1949. It may not be a reverent holiday song, but it is a great one all the same. Charles and Carter get the humorous vocal interplay just right, and it provides a nice finale for the album.
The Spirit Of Christmas is a fine addition to any Christmas collection, and it always receives some holiday play in my home.