Various Artists: Where Will You Be Christmas Day?

Various Artists
Where Will You Be Christmas Day?

Between the robotic Santas burping up hos while reciting "Jingle Bells" in styrofoam snow and the melismatic renditions of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" done by tinsel-thin supermodels, one wonders who in her right mind would intentionally put on a disc of Christmas music to get in the mood for the holidays? I've always preferred guzzling curdled eggnog or opening a wrapped package of underwear to hearing "Silent Night" again and again. But now, I'm enchanted with a collection of rarified and joyous Christmas music, more in the spirit than ever.

And it's all thanks to Georgia's exquisite label for the arcane and antique, Dust-to-Digital. That was the label that last year gave the gift of that ol' time religion with Goodbye, Babylon, a wood-encased box set of six CDs that culled the weirdest, rawest, fieriest American gospel and pulpit sermons from the early 20th century, delivering the good Lord to hipsters in a way that The 700 Club never will. And now they've returned to...uh, save Christmas, with Where Will You Be Christmas Day?, roasting 24 outlandish chestnuts from 1917 to 1959.

Compiled from the prodigious 78 collections of Dick Spottswood and Joe Bussard, this set of non-carols melds the secular and sacred aspects of the holiday, moving smoothly between religions and regions. From the Deep South to Appalachia, Trinidad to Puerto Rico, New York City to the Ukraine, all sorts of folks participate in the aural gift giving. There's a tangible vivacity here, whether it's in the upbeat songs by blues singers like Leadbelly, Bessie Smith, and Lightnin' Hopkins, or the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers' stirring "Sherburne," where their shape-note singing contains an ecstasy that would never be piped into the Mall of America, lest rapture break out among shoppers.

If Lord Executor's lilting calypso number "Christmas Is a Joyful Day" fails to rouse you, then maybe Lord Beginner's more rueful (though no less buoyant) "Christmas Morning the Rum Had Me Yawning" will souse you. Or try getting the family to sing Leroy Carr's "Christmas in Jail--Ain't That a Pain" as you string up the lights. Weighing out such festive levity are sung sermons from Rev. J.M. Gates and Rev. Edward W. Clayborn (The Guitar Evangelist), the latter of whom warns us about "The Wrong Way to Celebrate Christmas." As he would have us all remember, Christmas is Jesus' birthday.

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