The North Pole Melts with R&B, Funk, Soul-Jazz, and Boogaloo on 'In the Christmas Groove' [MP3]
By Daniel Siwek
Not everyone dreams of a white Christmas, if I have to hear Bing Crosby one more time I swear I'll make Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places look like Kris Kringle in the Miracle On 34th Street. Luckily Strut Records offers a surefire way to get some mistletoe smooching this yuletide: the newly released In the Christmas Groove.
Decades before Run DMC wrapped a rap about Christmas in Hollis, the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, was urging Santa to "go straight to the ghetto!" His JB's put out several holiday classics from the 60s into the 70s, and it's those tracks that inspired Strut (the cover art plays homage to Brown's In The Jungle Groove) to seek more, and more obscure, gifts from inner city's past.
And on the first day of Christmas, my bluesman Jimmy Reed gave to me (there are twelve cuts, one for each day); "Christmas Present Blues," a tale that has Santa coming down a Windy City chimney, where a wha wha'd harmonica solo is smoking and the electric blues is burning. The Harlem Children's Chorus couldn't relate to Irving Berlin's white-washed holiday, and on "Black Christmas" (which sounds like an early Jackson 5 + 8) they, "dream of a night where black is just as beautiful as white." More festive and jolly, but no less telling, is the Funk Machine's "Soul Santa," where the singer asks, "wouldn't it be revealing if Santa had kinky black hair?"
While most of this record takes place somewhere between Stax and Motown, some moments take you to Seattle, Houston, Harlem, and even Hollywood. Capitol Records artist Sean Bonniwell (of the Music Machine) was previously in Zebra, where he wrote and produced, "Christmas Morning." From 1969, the song soars with Afro-choral hallelujahs and a groovy bass that would have been perfect in Hair. And with more staying power than most novelty comps out there, Jimmy Jules' Philly-disco makes "The New Year" alive with the hope and optimism that comes with a clean-slate and new resolutions.