Butch Thompson/Laure Sewell: Bethlehem After Dark (2002)
A master at the soon-to-be lost art of Ragtime piano, Butch Thompson takes a relaxed view of holiday music. The Minnesota-born pianist was a regular on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion radio show for many years. He lasted quite a lot longer than my tolerance for Keillor's good clean fun. He went on to tour with trumpet legend Doc Cheatham, front a New Orleans revival band and consult on the Broadway show Jelly's Last Jam about the life and times of Jelly Roll Morton.
His prior Christmas album Yulestride (1994) was a solo effort. Here he enlists the help of fellow Minnesotan and cellist Laura Thompson. They cover the usual 'Angels We Have Heard On High,' 'Ave Maria,' and 'Joy To The World' and a few unusual tunes like James P. Johnson's' 'Snowy Morning Blues,' and Joseph Lamb's 'Reindeer Rag.' With the addition of Sewell, Thompson doesn't have to carry the day and relies on Sewell for textures and selected solos. Thompson is able to gear down from the frenetic nature of ragtime and stride piano for these mostly medium tempo renditions.
Sewell's takes the melody on 'I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm' and floats without undo sentimentality, as does Thompson throughout. Seems these days every country star, child (read Lolita-wannabe) rock star, and aging jazzbo is recording their versions of the maudlin holiday classics. Sorry, but those sap-filled treats are what brought on the Grinch in the first place. I prefer the less is more approach of Thompson and Sewell.
Track Listing: Bethlehem After Dark; I?ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm; In The Upper Garden/Only A Look; Reindeer Rag; I Wonder As I Wander; Angels We Have Heard On High; At The Christmas Ball; Lo, How A Rose; Joy To The World; Carol Of The Birds; Softly And Tenderly; Snowy Morning Blues; Coventry Carol; Ave Maria.
Personnel: Butch Thompson: Piano; Laura Sewell: Cello.
Record Label: Daring Records