New Christy Minstrels,
Christmas with the New Christy Minstrels:
Complete!

(Collector's Choice, 2001)

The New Christy Minstrels were a great '60s band who had a lot of fun making folk-pop music, but underwent a lot of line-up changes even during their best years. They recorded two Christmas albums, three years apart, with completely different line-ups. All the 1963 members had left by the time the 1966 album was recorded. The staff turnover was so high in 1966 that most of those who recorded the album in May had left by the time the album was released in the fall. Among those who joined in 1966 (after this album was recorded) were Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes, but even they could not halt the steady decline of the group.

I've read a review elsewhere suggesting that those who like one of the albums making up this twofer might not like the other. Certainly, they are different from each other in some respects, but I love them both.

The 1963 album (Merry Christmas) was recorded when the band was at it's peak, with "Green Green" (their biggest hit) having its chart run that year. The line-up was Nick Woods, Art Podell, Barry McGuire (who sang lead on "Green Green" and became famous for "Eve of Destruction" after he left the band), Barry Kane, Larry Ramos (who later founded The Association, famous for "Cherish" and "Never My Love"), Clarence Trent, Doug Brookins and female singers Gayle Caldwell (soprano) and Jackie Miller Davidson (alto).

Most of the songs on the '63 album were written by various members of the band, so even those (like me) who have large collections of Christmas music will find plenty of interest here. The songs are of a remarkably high quality and it is perhaps surprising that none of them have become standards.

The 1966 album (Christmas with the Christies) was recorded when the group was already in decline generally, but this is still a fine album -- it was probably the last great album recorded by the band, although I haven't heard any of their later music, very little of which is available now and probably for a good reason. The line-up was Bob Buchanan, Bill Teague, Bill Skiles, Pete Henderson, Michael McGinnis, Peter-John Morse and female singers Ann White (soprano) and Ede Mae Kellogg (alto). (Another fine alto, Karen Gunderson, had joined the group, stayed for two years and left between the two albums so was one of the few Minstrels from the era to miss out on both albums.)

The '66 album is slicker than its predecessor -- more pop, less folk and consisting almost entirely of standards appearing on many other Christmas albums. However, these versions are distinctive, with all the different voices and a variety of lead singers, so I still rate it highly.

The New Christy Minstrels were different from all their contemporaries and there has never been anything like them (regardless of lineup) before or since.

- Rambles
written by Peter D. Harris
published 27 September 2003



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