Twenty Little Drummer Boys
This double-disc set is one of those intriguing projects that nonetheless needs to be digested in bits, unless you really like "The Little Drummer Boy." Variations from strikingly creative to supremely tacky are featured by performers ranging from The Yellowjackets to The Jingle Cats.
Among the best arrangements: Cuba/L.A. combines a sharp-voiced violin and intense hand percussion. Ten Point Ten blends a rich college of complex percussion with an enticing mix of traditional and electric instruments. Kofi does a Ziggy Marley rock/reggae fusion with a few interludes of improvised vocals.
The Yellowjackets' reggae arrangement is OK, but not terribly creative or inspired, in the way songs with alleged commercial appeal tend to be on sampler albums. Daryl Stuermer's lite-fusion is one of the lesser tracks from GRP's first Christmas collection. For rock fans there's an '80s synth hard beat from White Heart, protest rock from Ray Stevens (who calls the drummer an intrusive neighbor who sounds like "the war in the Middle East") and vapid instrumental rock-ability from Bongolong.
Finally, for those who haven't heard the Jingle Catsand those are all real cats with no pitch-shifting appliedtheir one track is all you need to "appreciate" them. Their album is hilarious for a few minutes and then becomes unbearably annoying. Those wanting to fully experience this form of madness can find The Animal Kwackers and The Singing Dogs at Bongobells. Twenty Little Drummer Boys isn't that bad, but the concept is similartoo much of even a good song goes sour on the ears quickly.
Similar: The Bongobells site also has double-disc variations of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings Of Orient Are," both well-suited for a multitude of arrangements.
A Christmas Yet To Come
Bongobells says this 1975 recording was recorded by Joseph Byrddescribed elsewhere as a freakish '60s psycho rock/pop keyboardistusing only an ARP 2600 Synthesizer. "The arrangements are very similar to Walter Carlos' 'Switched-On Bach' recordings, so this is rather vintage stuff and will not be for every musical taste."
That's a fairly dead-on assessment, although I found the album lacking the edge I was hoping for. The mix of thin and fat analogue synth sounds is wide, and the songs go beyond to the usual carols to include pieces like "Taublein Weiss" and "Carillon." But the performances are vanilla beyond the tonal changes, with few flourishes or improvised moments.
Similar: Switched On Santa features 13 songs Sy Mann on a Moog synth. The sound quality is badit sounds like a scratchy old LPbut the playing is a tad more interesting.
The Border Brass
This sounds like a watered-down version of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, although another reviewer suggests they are "deliberately cheesy parodies."
There are ten familiar songs, all about two or three minutes long, performed competently in that '60s TV-theme style, but without a lot of flair. The intensity is low to middling, with no bursts of intensity likely to inspire any "Tequila!"-like shouts. A small horn ensemble, muted vibes, simple percussion and fake harpsichord are the dominant tones.
The Albert influence/parody is strongly evident on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "What Child Is This?" (the latter clipping from "Taste Of Honey"). If all one wants is to set a mood in that vein without paying close attention to the songs, this will fit the bill.
Similar: A Christmas In Mexico and Christmas On The Border at Bongobells.