For some reason, this year did not bring the wide collection of celebratory albums that usually flow into Rifftides headquarter during the holiday season. But here are acknowledgements, if not full-fledged reviews, of three new Christmas albums that did materialize as the 2017 holidays approached.
David Ian, Vintage Christmas Trio (Prescott Records)
In his third Christmas album of recent years, the Canadian-born pianist again interprets traditional songs, concentrating on recognizable melodies and substantial harmonies. Ian, bassist John Estes and drummer Josh Hunt are spirited in their time-play on “Joy To The World,” show Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” the reverence of evocative reflection on the song’s harmonies, and find a blues strain in “Up On The Housetop.”
Reta Watkins, That Christmas Feeling (Suite 28 Records)
Nashville arrangers wrap the penetrating power of Ms. Watkins’ voice in orchestral settings that include breaks suggesting, but never fully disclosing, the studio musicians’ jazz abilities. The feeling, however, is definitely there, notably in the skilled rhythm section. Ms. Watkins is superb in “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” and two unusual songs new to me, “Mary Did You Know” and “Christmas In Heaven.” The verse to Martin and Blaine’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” has been too seldom performed since Judy Garland first sang it in the film Meet Me In St. Louis in 1944. Ms. Watkins does it beautifully.
Jason Paul Curtis, These Christmas Days (Jason Paul Curtis)
Curtis wrote ten new songs for this album and recorded them with a big band of musicians from the Washington, DC, area. The emphasis is on straight-ahead swing. He delivers his vocals in a confident baritone that is cheerful and consistently in tune. Except for a miasma of corniness in some of the lyrics, it’s a rewarding and entertaining collection. I confess to trepidation when I read in the notes that Curtis’s young daughter Isabella would sing with him on two pieces. Not to worry; her intonation is good, too, and her vocal personality is as pleasing as her dad’s. Satisfying instrumental solos in the band come from pianist Jeremy Ragsdale, flugelhornist Ray Caddell, clarinetist Dave Schiff and guitarist Jon Albertson.