12 Songs of Christmas (Etta James album)

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12 Songs of Christmas
Studio album by Etta James
Released October 13, 1998 (1998-10-13)
Recorded May 7 – June 19, 1998
Genre Blues, holiday,[1] jazz[2]
Length 62:41
Label Private Music
Producer John Snyder
Etta James chronology
Life, Love & the Blues
(1998)
12 Songs of Christmas
(1998)
Heart of a Woman
(1999)

12 Songs of Christmas is a holiday album by American singer Etta James, released in October 1998 through the record label Private Music. The album, produced by John Snyder, features standards arranged mostly by pianist Cedar Walton and solos by Walton, George Bohanon on trombone and Red Holloway on tenor saxophone. Critical reception of the album was positive overall. Following its release, 12 Songs reached a peak position of number five on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart.

Composition[edit]

Arranger and pianist Cedar Walton performing in 2001

12 Songs of Christmas consists of twelve standard holiday songs with arrangements mostly by pianist Cedar Walton and solos by Walton, George Bohanon on trombone and Red Holloway on tenor saxophone.[3] The album combines James' blues style with a jazz sound.[2] 12 Songs, recorded during May and June 1998, was produced by John Snyder with Lupe DeLeon serving as executive producer.[1][4]

The album opens with "Winter Wonderland", originally by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, followed by James Pierpont's "Jingle Bells". A "bluesy" rendition of Lou Baxter and Johnny Moore's "Merry Christmas, Baby" trails "This Time of Year" (Hollis, Owens).[5] Other holiday standards appearing on the album include "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin), John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", and "White Christmas", originally by Irving Berlin. "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)", originally by Mel Tormé and Robert Wells, "The Little Drummer Boy (Carol of the Drum)" (Katherine Kennicott Davis, Henry Onorati, Harry Simeone), Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr's "Silent Night", and "Joy to the World" (George Frideric Handel, Lowell Mason, Isaac Watts) follow. The album closes with a rendition of Adolphe Adam and John Sullivan Dwight's "O Holy Night".[1]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
The Cincinnati Enquirer 2/4 stars[6]
Daily News 2.5/4 stars[5]
Entertainment Weekly A[7]
The New York Times positive[3]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[8]

Critical reception of the album was positive overall. Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote a positive review for the album, claiming that James turned standards into "suave after-hours jazz arrangements" that seemed "cozy and intimate". He wrote that James was "surprisingly reverent" and sounded "downright devout" on "Joy to the World".[3] Entertainment Weekly's Matt Diehl felt that James' performances brought both "sass and class" and "ooze[d] passionately with old-school soul".[7] David Hinckley of New York City's Daily News awarded 12 Songs "two-and-a-half bells" out of four.[5] Rolling Stone called 12 Songs a "tour de force of interpretive rethinking" with "scintillating, bluesy spins on Yuletide evergreens".[8] The Spartanburg Herald-Journal's Dan DeLuca also complimented the set.[9]

The album received some negative criticism. Larry Nager of The Cincinnati Enquirer awarded the album two out of four stars and wrote that James had the ability to make "the ultimate blue Christmas disc" but failed to do so. Nager complimented "Merry Christmas, Baby" but considered the performance to be a "rare bit of juke joint" among "supper club sounds" that left him "wanting more".[6]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Winter Wonderland" (Felix Bernard, Richard B. Smith) – 4:26
  2. "Jingle Bells" (James Pierpont, traditional) – 5:26
  3. "This Time of Year" (Jesse Hollis, Cliff Owens) – 5:47
  4. "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Lou Baxter, Johnny Moore) – 6:10
  5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin) – 4:45
  6. "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (John Frederick Coots, Haven Gillespie) – 6:22
  7. "White Christmas" (Irving Berlin) – 5:52
  8. "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells) – 4:23
  9. "The Little Drummer Boy (Carol of the Drum)" (Katherine Kennicott Davis, Henry Onorati, Harry Simeone) – 4:59
  10. "Silent Night" (Franz Xaver Gruber, Joseph Mohr, traditional) – 4:49
  11. "Joy to the World" (George Frideric Handel, Lowell Mason, traditional, Isaac Watts) – 5:30
  12. "O Holy Night" (Adolphe Adam, John Sullivan Dwight) – 4:50

Personnel[edit]

Red Holloway performed saxophone solos throughout 12 Songs of Christmas.

Credits adapted from Allmusic.[1]

Charts[edit]

Following its release, 12 Songs of Christmas reached a peak position of number five on Billboard's Top Blues Albums chart.[10] In 1999, James had five albums chart in the United States: Life, Love & the Blues, 12 Songs of Christmas, Heart of a Woman (1999), as well as two compilation albums Best of Etta James and Her Best (1997).[11]

Chart (1998) Peak
position
Billboard's Top Blues Albums 5

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "12 Songs of Christmas". Allmusic. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Horyczun, Mike (December 17, 1998). "Greet the holidays with the sound of music". The Hour 127 (296) (Norwalk, Connecticut). p. C2. OCLC 27905790. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (December 18, 1998). "Pop Go the Holidays (With Jazz, Reggae and Rap) -- Holiday Albums; Etta James: 12 Songs of Christmas (Private Music)". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Reviews & Previews". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) 110 (46): 22. November 14, 1998. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c Hinckley, David (December 3, 1998). "Old Chestnuts Top Our Holiday Cd List Rock & Gospel Are Cool For Yule – But Crosby And Martin Are Best". Daily News (New York City, New York). p. 1. OCLC 9541172. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Nager, Larry (November 22, 1998). "This year, rock, swing and hop around the Christmas tree". Sunday Times-Sentinel 33 (41) (Gallipolis, Middleport, Pomeroy, and Point Pleasant, Ohio: Ohio Valley Publishing). p. C7. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Diehl, Matt (December 4, 1998). "Music Review: Twelve Songs of Christmas". Entertainment Weekly (461). ISSN 1049-0434. Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian David (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Simon and Schuster. pp. 418–419. Retrieved September 1, 2011. 
  9. ^ DeLuca, Dan (December 19, 1998). "Holiday recordings: Sugarplums and coal". Spartanburg Herald-Journal 153 (353) (Spartanburg, South Carolina: The New York Times Company). Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  10. ^ "12 Songs of Christmas: Charts & Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  11. ^ Morris, Chris (December 25, 1999). "The Year in Blues: Virtuous Youth and Respected Elders Thrived". Billboard (Nielsen Business Media, Inc.) 111 (52). ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved September 1, 2011.