1985: Ray Charles - The Spirit Of Christmas

I was very surprised by this record. When I saw a young-looking Ray Charles on the cover, I figured it was from the 50s or 60s, not the mid-80s! I prepared myself for clipped, reverb-y percussion and the over-dependence on synthesizers that seems to be on every record from the era.

Wrong on all counts. Though this isn’t Ray Charles’ finest hour, it also sounds appealingly timeless. The album starts with a brassy version of “What Child Is This”, a song that never exactly begged for a jazzy arrangement but works nonetheless. The song is a good introduction for the album, which is generally more snappy than sappy. There’s the swinging “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”, the sassy “Winter Wonderland.” You know what Ray Charles sounds like, you know these songs, so you know what’s coming. It’s entirely predictable, and with a record like this, that’s a very good thing.

The arrangements on each track favors low saxophones and squealing trumpets, resulting in a sound that's more jazz than R&B. This approach generally works well, lending over-played songs a welcome freshness. The record stumbles, however, with a few boring ballads, such as the closer “Christmas Time”, which, with its cloying synthesizer and over-produced vocals, is the only song that sounds like the 80s. “Christmas In My Heart” is another slow track, and while it’s not bad, it’s extremely uninteresting.

The only ballad that makes an impression is “That Spirit Of Christmas”, which you’ll probably recognize from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The message isn’t original -- Christmas is for giving! -- but the melody is charmingly simple, and the line “what a wonderful feeling” just sounds right in Charles’ understated rasp.

The Spirit Of Christmas is, unbelievably, Ray Charles’ only Christmas record. That’s a lot of weight for one album to carry, and this one can’t do it. If you like Ray Charles and Christmas music, however, you’ll be satisfied. This reissue comes with the bonus track “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Betty Carter, which doesn’t quite fit the record’s arrangements but sounds great nonetheless.

1. What Child Is This
2. The Little Drummer Boy
3. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town
4. This Time Of The Year
5. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
6. That Spirit Of Christmas
7. All I Want For Christmas
8. Christmas In My Heart
9. Winter Wonderland
10. Christmas Time
11. Baby It’s Cold Outside (with Betty Carter)

DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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