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Funky Christmas

Various Artists

Real Gone Music 2013

Review by David Bowling

Have yourself a funky little Christmas. Funky Christmas, originally released in 1976 on the Cotillion label, which was a subsidiary of Atlantic, has slid under the radar for decades. It now returns with remastered sound and new liner notes as a part of the Real Gone Music Christmas reissue series.

The album is comprised of two songs by six artists who had just released their debut albums for the label. It was hoped the release would give the artists some additional exposure during the Christmas season.

The five person vocal group, Luther (featuring lead vocals by a young Luther Vandross), provides the strongest two tracks. In addition both songs are original compositions. “May Christmas Bring You Happiness” has a disco feel as Vandross’ voice soars as the three female and one male member of his group provide backing. “At Christmas Time” is a ballad that has a jam style with Vandross seemingly making up the lyrics as the song progresses.

John Edwards would only spend a short time with the label as he would leave in 1977 to begin a two-decade stint with the Spinners. His contributions are the well-known Christmas classics “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Both benefit from his soul styling but are a little two short and add nothing new to these oft recorded tunes.

Marge Joseph is an underrated singer who was a staple on the R&B charts. Legendary Motown writer Lamont Dozier wrote both of her Christmas performances. “Christmas Gift” and “Feeling Like Christmas” are propelled by her energetic vocals and makes one wonder why she did not gain widespread popularity.

Lou Donaldson and Willis Jackson were both saxophonists who had a long recording history for other labels. Donaldson’s take on “Jingle Bells” is a non-funky clunker but his “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” percolates along. Willis’ “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is one of the better instrumental takes on this old chestnut but “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” finds him on cruise control.

The last two tracks are by The Impressions. This is not the group of Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield, or even Leroy Hutson. The reconstituted group consists of longtime members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash plus new additions Ralph Gooden and Reggie Torian. Their two performances were not an auspicious beginning for the label as their choir backed “Silent Night” and their disco-like version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” struggle to be average.

Funky Christmas is inconsistent and has some highs and lows. Its main saving grace is it is different from most other Christmas albums out there. It is a non-traditional Christmas release that was issued by a label to promote their own artists. While self-serving over 35 years ago, it remains interesting today.

Rating: **1/2

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