various artists,
Christmas Around the World
(Putumayo, 2003)

Many Christmas albums aim to capture the holiness and awe of the season. Christmas Around the World has tapped into the joyous energy of Christmastime. With the earnest, barely restrained exuberance of a child who can't wait for the big day, these artists put their own bright polish on old standards, spreading an infectious, honest energy that will drown out any number of forced ad jingles and elevator treatments of favorite hymns.

Most of the songs are Christmas standards, or at least sound like them. New York Twoubadou presents "Joyeux Noel," a Haitian-based carol telling the story of a Christmas party, with a deceptively trite opening that soon picks up the rhythm of the party hiding in its words. Liuba Maria Hevia's "Venid Fieles Todos (Adeste Fidelis)" is recognizably built around the Cuban son rhythm, but without sacrificing the traditional sound of the song. Not every song is so radically changed. "Here We Come a-Wassailing" and "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" are both given fairly classic instrumental treatments. But Steve Such's guitar flying through the mellow notes of "Wassailing" and the fantastic lightheartedness given to "Kings" by the Banks Soundtrack Steel Orchestra set these versions apart and make them proper company for the rest of this album.

My own favorite numbers are the ebullient Cajun tunes, which take the welcome traits of Cajun music and fuse them with a holiday sweetness. Despite the variety of musical treatments and traditions represented on this album, none of the familiar songs is ever unrecognizable or too far removed from its essential heart. These are much more than tired covers of the familiar songs. The album in general is based in warmer climes than are usually chosen to represent Christmas -- Louisiana, Haiti, Cuba -- and that warmth infuses the music. If your Christmas days are marked by sun and drought worries more than snow and darkness, this collection will sound close to your heart. Those more prone to the "White Christmas" honored by Los Reyes will find a bit of summer warmth and a lot of holiday spirit in these tracks.

This album is a shot of Christmas cheer. Energetic, delightful and never tiresome, it will have you dashing to spread Christmas Around the World.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 3 January 2004

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