Leon Redbone,
Christmas Island
(BMG, 1987; Rounder, 2003)

I have grown rather accustomed to white Christmases and would miss the snow if it wasn't there. It is after all, the middle of winter, and there is supposed to be snow. But Leon Redbone creates Christmas music that comes from sun and sand on Christmas Island and, while listening to this album, I find that I don't miss the snow at all.

The musicians joining Redbone (guitar, vocals, bass harmonica) are Dr. John (piano, percussion, vocals on track 3), John Gill (banjo, drums, bass sax), Brian Nalepka (upright bass, accordion), Cyndi Cashdollar (Dobro), Frank Vignola (guitar, banjo on track 12), Richard Hendrickson (first violin), George Wozniak (second violin), Kathryn Kienke (third violin), Phil Hopkins (drums, percussion on track 12), Bobby Gordon (clarinet), John Elliott (didgeridoo), John Eric Kellso (trumpet) and Santa (sleighbells and chimes). There are a couple of other musicians who pitch in for a song or two.

The violins take the lead for "White Christmas" and transport the song to the ballroom floor. Redbone slides into some of the notes during "Winter Wonderland," and from there it switches to sandpaper rough in "Frosty the Snowman." He combines the broad vocals of the vaudeville stage with a string section and a touch of the blues in "Blue Christmas" and they all blend together.

"There's No Place like Home for the Holidays" starts off pared down, with just his voice and banjo. The gentle delivery of "Toyland" combines with the violins to make it feel more like a slow waltz. "Christmas Island" is an invite to spend the season on Christmas Island, and the music makes you feel like you are already there. The music for "That Old Christmas Moon" gets shifted around, letting the pianist play off theme.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is performed with a light touch, making it feel like the singer is far from home. The pacing makes "Let It Snow" a fun romp with an extended instrumental stretch. From there you go to the blues with "Christmas Ball Blues." The CD finishes off on a fun note with "Kitty Cats' Christmas," which is started off by a kid and the sound of the surf.

Leon Redbone put together a classy group of Christmas songs on Christmas Island. And while most of them are standards, very few of them received the standard treatment, making this a CD that can be enjoyed year round.

- Rambles
written by Paul de Bruijn
published 17 October 2004

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