Take it from Border Radio: You're not sick of Christmas music--you're just sick of the same old Christmas music. What you need--aside from another shot of bourbon in the eggnog--is some new old Christmas music. And, thanks to Dust-to-Digital Records (the crew responsible for the lavish Goodbye, Babylon gospel box set), you'll find plenty on the stellar new anthology Where Will You Be Christmas Day?
Although several of the 26 tracks featured here date from as recently as 1959, most were cut in the '20s and '30s; the oldest, an Italian bagpipe number ("Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle") that suggests a funeral dirge crossed with "Away in a Manger," is from 1917. "This collection reflects sentiments of earlier times, when the holidays involved more than indoor trees and endless trips to the mall," writes Dick Spottswood, who compiled and produced the disc with Steven Lance Ledbetter.
The program casts a wide net, with equal time allotted to Santa Claus and Baby Jesus. "We felt the sacred and secular would be OK side by side," writes Ledbetter via e-mail, adding that assembling two separate volumes was not a consideration. (Take that, red states!) From Trinidad comes the jolly Calypso of "Christmas Morning the Rum Had Me Yawning" by Lord Beginner, while Vera Hall Ward opens the disc with a stirring a cappella, "The Last Month of the Year." (Acting as referee is Rev. Edward W. Clayborn, the so-called Guitar Evangelist, whose mid-program slide guitar tune, "The Wrong Way to Celebrate Christmas," neatly straddles the theological divide.)
Although music geeks will only recognize a few of the names here--Ledbelly, Bessie Smith, Lightin' Hopkins, and Maddox Brothers and Rose--the compilers sifted through between 40 and 60 potential selections, drawing on dusty grooves "featured annually on the Dick Spottswood Radio Show for 20 years." But the real kicker? "Neither Dick nor I are huge fans of the genre," admits Ledbetter. Leave it to a couple of skeptics to put out the best CD of the holiday season.
And while you're surreptitiously picking through the Christmas music, I also encourage you to purchase the new A John Waters Christmas (New Line Records). Although this hardly qualifies as "roots" music, I would argue that the director of Pink Flamingos has done more to popularize indigenous American culture than Alan Lomax. And besides, an original copy of "Santa Claus Is a Black Man" is as impossible find on vinyl as any shellac 78 in Spottswood's library.