Why has it taken this long to bring Burl Ives into our Classic Christmas line-up? This year, the 50th anniversary of the televised broadcast of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, it seemed like the right thing to do. This beloved voice of Sam the Snowman surely has a place in our heart.
This collection, The Very Best of Burl Ives Christmas, presents carols out of the family Christmas songbook– the ones we’re used to singing along to, and others that tend to be left behind on commercial recordings like these.
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As if performing an actual concert in our living room, the album opens with a full overture featuring a taste of Burl’s greatest holiday hit, “A Holly Jolly Christmas.” Then, we dig into the meat of the matter.
The producers of the album know what the people want. Rudolph! We start there and then move onto another all-time favorite, “White Christmas.”
After being wrapped in a cloak of bestselling Christmas comfort, Burl turns a corner and reminds us that the best songs aren’t necessarily the ones that Hollywood told us to love, nor the ones with repetitive melodies poised to become pesky earworms.
There’s “O’ Little Town Of Bethlehem,” a song we know but one that tends to take a back seat to more prominent commercial hits. This arrangement is quite simple. Close your eyes and picture Burl Ives performing a basic recital at the front of a chapel… that’s this track. It’s perfect.
Arrangements like these are essential to our Christmas music collections. They strip away the flare and splash that overly-produced albums tend to stir in (here’s Julie Andrews to show you what I mean), leaving us to appreciate the composition itself and the beauty of the singer’s voice– which is really why we bought the album in the first place. In this instance, you could easily swap Ives’ voice for, say, a clarinet or English Horn, and you’d probably enjoy the track all the same.
That’s the charm of this album. Burl is the star without being a star. He’s just singing for you, like your grandpa would if you could still fit on his lap.
Another song that always steals my heart is “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” I don’t think I fully appreciated it until I stumbled upon Rosemary Clooney’s version in her White Christmas album. I love a song with a melody line that dances around the musical scale a little bit before repeating the same note twice. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” does that, though not to the same extent as our old favorite, “Stardust.”
“I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” is a unique selection– one I don’t tend to find on standard 15-track Christmas albums like this. Ives’ energy subtly ebbs and flows with each passage. The lyrics are an adaptation of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written as a personal message of hope following the death of his wife and the outbreak of the Civil War.
If there’s one track I’m prone to reach over and skip, it’s “Twelve Days Of Christmas.” Yes, we go through all twelve days, all twelve sets of gifts, twelve times. Four long minutes. Oy! The link here is not the same version found on the CD, which is simply comprised of Ives and a solo guitar.
But the show’s not over until we hear the song everybody wants to hear. The grand finale. The big finish. The “ding dong ding…”
The entire album is full of delightful arrangements where the orchestra and chorus add a layer of warmth to Burl Ives’ simple presentation. If it becomes a part of your collection, it’s sure to become a family favorite.
Complete Track List
1. Overture and A Holly Jolly Christmas
2. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
3. White Christmas
4. Oh, Little Town Of Bethlehem
5. Silver Bells
6. Twelve Days Of Christmas
7. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
8. The Little Drummer Boy
9. What Child Is This?
10. Silver and Gold
11. It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
12. Winter Wonderland
13. I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day
14. Silent Night
15. A Holly Jolly Christmas