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Various Artists - In the Christmas Groove

Various Artists

In the Christmas Groove

(Strut Records)

It’s that time of year again, and love it or hate it, you are bound to be overwhelmed by a barrage of Christmas classics and flash-in-the-pan renditions of standards you’ve heard a million times before. The antidote is Strut Records’ foray into the genre of Yule-tidings with their incredible new compilation. In the Christmas Groove unites 14 rare soul, funk, and blues cuts rediscovered by the ghost of Christmas past. AM rock and soul of the 19760s and 1970s arguably got the ball rolling for all of the bearable Christmas hits of our day. This compilation proves it while blowing everything else out of the water and giving the holidays the dose of soul it so desperately needs.

Strut Records did a great job of digging in the snow for these gems, because most tracks here are long-lost and out-of-print singles and 45s. Things get rolling with a rollicking rendition of the standard “Auld Lang Syne” by the Black on White Affair, which starts out with slow-burn organ and morphs into anything but a standard after the dirty-funk backbeat kicks in. Probably the only danceable version of the song I have ever heard. J. D. McDonald’s “Boogaloo Santa Claus” reinvents the red-coated gift-giver as a party animal who gives presents to all the best dancers. “The New Year” by Jimmy Jules & the Nuclear Soul System tells a tale of hardship and second chances alongside an upbeat and string-heavy backdrop that sounds like it could have been an Isaac Hayes tune left off of Hot Buttered Soul. The Harlem Children’s Chorus hits you with a bit of reality with the harmony heavy “Black Christmas,” illustrating how it can be a little tougher to hope for peace on earth while living in the ghetto.

You won’t find yourself down for too long. “Funky Funky Christmas” by Electric Jungle picks things up with the horn-filled ABC’s of funk intertwining some tongue in cheek “deck the halls” melodies in little breaks here and there. “Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul” by the Soul Saints Orchestra is the jam that will keep folks dancing up till New Year’s, and the legendary Jimmy Reed makes a great addition to the compilation with “Christmas Present Blues,” a blues/funk hybrid that perfectly rounds out the spirit of the entire album.

All in all, this record is a serious refresher and just might save your holiday. Play it loud, rip off the cardigan, and mind the mistletoe. Christmas is supposed to be a party, isn’t it?

eric kendall

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