Stumbling across a favorite recording artist doing Christmas is a voyeuristic (auralistic?) shame on par with the nasty thrill one can feel watching prostitutes ply their trade while you’re ensconced in the backseat of a car speeding past. Blurred, cheap, and sad but impossible to look away from.
Then nothing like the pure soprano of Joan Baez to divorce the capitalism from Christmas. This one is a Yuletide miracle. On Noël (1966), she steps away from the folk world momentarily, lining her medieval manse with cello, recorder, viola, lute, flute and harpsichord accompaniments. This is a land far, far away from any meat packing district. Plus she sings in both French and German! The whole album is a gem as she makes some unusual choices: Coventry Carol, Down in Yon Forest and the Catalan Carol of the Birds.
Heading back towards town (sometime selling out can sound so good as evidenced by Barbra Streisand’s O Little Town of Bethlehem on The Many Moods of Christmas, a disc produced by CBS for the Goodyear Tire company in 1973) I enjoy Glen Campbell’s There’s No Place Like Home — part of a compilation called the odd, simple, nearly stupid title Christmas America, a gift from the other tire company Firestone. It’s a schmaltzy tune that reminds me of pecking out The Impossible Dream on my grandmother’s See It and Play It electric organ but Glen’s vocals are as studio smooth as ever. Curiously enough (or perhaps not so) according to allmusic.com the majority of GC’s re-releases since 1991 have been Christmas samplers.