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A cool 'Capitol Christmas'


Various Artists, "A Capitol Christmas" (Capitol)

A truth often acknowledged only in whispers is that pop music for the holidays is not everyone's mug of nog. To some people, Christmas music, especially, is as much of an acquired taste to some people as anchovies or Gefilte fish at dinner or "Empire" or "The Walking Dead" on the tube.

But even for those who prefer to avoid holiday music as much as possible, the way Capitol Records did it in its classic era had a raffish charm all its own. That will happen when one of your founders was Johnny Mercer. I mean, come on now. One of the greatest Christmas records of all time -- Nat "King" Cole's version of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song" -- leads off Capitol's idea of great Christmas records. That's far from all. Are there any two singers less "Oh by gosh by golly" in the American Songbook than Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin? Listening to them, with irony to the max, try to get into the commercial Christmas spirit is delightful.

Who can resist Margaret Whiting and Mercer's "Baby It's Cold Outside?" (Mercer is one of the coolest singers this country ever had on the near side of Mose Allison.) I wish Ella Fitzgerald hadn't been kidnapped by "The First Noel" (not her bag, really) but you've got to love Lou Rawls' "Merry Christmas Baby." Julie London gets her point across admirably in "I'd Like You for Christmas" and if anyone owned the holiday outright, it was Bing Crosby. So his version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is beyond all argument. Don't argue either with June Christy's "The Merriest." This bunch knew, out there on the West Coast, the way to make Christmas cool and not cold.

3.5 stars (out of four)

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