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Island Sounds, Electric Mayhem & Jingle Swing Will Give

Your Holiday Playlist Something Extra This Season.

by Erik R. Slagle

Every year, “The Playlist” turns up alternatives to the usual Christmas Countdown tunes that start out charming but grow stale by December 23rd. For 2018, it’s synth, swing, and steelpans in the spotlight to liven up your holiday soundtracks. Enjoy!

“The Moog Machine: Christmas Becomes Electric”:

In 1969, producers Norman Dolph, Kenny Ascher and Alan Foust turned out “Switched-On Rock” under the moniker “Moog Machine”. Moog, that classic early synthesizer, had come on strong with “Switched On Bach” a year earlier, and Dolph – who also produced the Velvet Underground, among others – was ready to jump. “Christmas Becomes Electric” is an interesting if skittish collection of 17 classics that sound a little like something you might have produced on your own keyboard if you were a child of the 80s. Great background music, and a great novelty album to add to your holiday playlist.

“Robert Greenidge: A Coral Reefer Christmas”: Greenidge has toured with Taj Mahal, recorded with JJ Cale, and enjoyed a successful solo career, but the steelpan percussionist might best be known for his work in Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band. Greenidge’s island take on standards like Carol of the Bells, O Holy Night, Silent Night and more is an excellent tonic for the chilly December weather. Definitely not the music you’ll here in mall after mall after mall this season – and if you’re suddenly inspired to pack up and head to the Caribbean for the holidays, that’s not the worst thing in the world!

“Various Artists: Christmas In the Caribbean”: If Greenidge’s vision of a Caribbean Christmas takes its inspiration from his time spent in Buffett’s crew (Buffett, in fact, lends vocals on one of the tracks), this compilation strips away the vocals, guitar, and just about anything else that can’t be teased with a mallet – leaving only bare-bones Tropicalia for your listening pleasure. Featuring twice as many tracks as “Coral Reefer Christmas,” this album expands the holiday offerings with steel drum readings of “Rudolph,” “Merry Little Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Good King Wenceslas.”

“Various Artists: Jingle Bell Swing” and “Jingle Bell Jazz”: I stumbled onto these two collections tracking down Miles Davis’ “Blue Xmas” from the early 1960s. You can find it on a French vinyl pressing from 1983, tucked in alongside Davis staples like “Budo,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” and “Fran-Dance.” In the digital age, though, “Blue Xmas” is more easily accessible on the “Jingle Bell Swing” compilation that also offers up “Jingle Bells” and “Sugar Rum Cherry” from Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock’s “Deck the Halls,” the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing “Snowfall,” and a magnificent reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Art Carney. (You might remember Carney played the big man himself in the classic 80s Jaclyn Smith made-for-TV movie, “The Night They Saved Christmas.” The 1963 Columbia vinyl LP “Jingle Bell Jazz” features the compilation’s original track listing, which include more greats like Dave Brubeck, Lionel Hampton and the Dukes of Dixieland.

Hope this edition of “The Playlist” has given you a few new ideas to expand your own party playlist. Happy Holidays!