The often dour nature of the blues, with its focus on realism and quest for authenticity, doesn't always make for happy holiday music. As such, blues music as a genre doesn't tend to cash in on Christmas as frequently (or as boldly) as, say country music or early rock & roll artists. Still, a number of fine Christmas collections are available for those who enjoy a "blues Christmas," and the following albums are among the best of the blues, providing no little seasonal joy, even in a blues context.
This 1992 CD from Alligator Records features a little something of every shade of blues. Artists contributing include legends like Charlie Musselwhite, Lonnie Brooks, and Son Seals as well as relative young 'uns like Kenny Neal, Tinsley Ellis, and William Clarke. Fourteen festive tracks in all, and you haven't lived until you hear Koko Taylor belt out "Merry, Merry Christmas."
A more contemporary collection of holiday tunes than most of these compilations, this one includes performances from the solid musical citizens of Austin, Texas. The album features blues, roots-rock, and Americana artists like the Fabulous Thunderbirds ("Merry Christmas Darling" and "Winter Wonderland") and Lou Ann Barton ("Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and "Please Come Home For Christmas"), as well as Charlie Sexton and Angela Strehli, headlined by Willie Nelson's classic take on "Blue Christmas."
This 2003 collection is actually a budget-priced reissue of the 2001 B.B. King album A Christmas Celebration Of Hope, so if you have that one, don't spring for this one, no matter the discount price. Either way, it's a decent collection of holiday blues tunes from the king of blues guitar, with fine performances of chestnuts like "Merry Christmas, Baby" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" as well as a new King composition, the spry instrumental "Christmas Love."
This cheapo entry in Universal's "20th Century Masters" series includes often-anthologized songs from Koko Taylor ("Merry, Merry Christmas") and Charles Brown ("Please Come Home For Christmas") alongside harder-to-find holiday tunes like "Santa Claus" by Sonny Boy Williamson, as well as tracks from William Clarke, Eddie Campbell, and Jimmy McCracklin. A dozen songs in all, at a budget price; still, if you find a copy of Blue Yule (listed below), I'd opt for it instead.
This is probably the hippest blues-oriented Christmas album that you'll find, including rare tracks from legends like Lightnin' Hopkins ("Happy New Year") and John Lee Hooker ("Blues For Christmas"), as well as the usual soulful holiday fare from folks like Charles Brown, Jimmy McCracklin, and Eddie Campbell. Plus, artists like Canned Heat, Roy Milton, Detroit Junior, and Louis Jordan (his last recording, 1968's "Santa Claus, Santa Claus") that don't show up on holiday compilations all that often.
America's favorite boogie-rock kings, Canned Heat, recorded their first Christmas song with the novelty band the Chipmunks back in 1968. "Christmas Boogie" received a little airplay back in the day and it's revisited here, along with another classic Canned Heat holiday gem, "Christmas Blues." It is included here in the original version, along with a newer performance with guest Dr. John and yet a third with guitarist Eric Clapton and blues harpist John Popper. The rest is pure churn-and-burn boogie with the happiest of holiday intents.
Alligator Records put out a slew of "houserockin'" compilations during the late-1980s and '90s to attract new fans to the blues, but this 2003 CD celebrates the holidays with a diverse sixteen-song collection of blues, soul, and zydeco music (including many new songs). Among the artists bringing musical cheer are the ever-reliable Koko Taylor, Alligator label mainstay Lonnie Brooks, phenomenal singers Marcia Ball and Shemekia Copeland, and guitarslingers Coco Montoya and Michael Burks. Roomful of Blues asks the important question, "Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get The Blues?"
Solid collection of bluesy holiday tunes, led off by the Charles Brown standard "Please Come Home For Christmas" and including performances by Lightnin' Hopkins ("Christmas Blues"), Big Joe Williams ("Christmas Blues"), Lowell Fulson, Big Joe Turner, and Johnny Winter. Some duplication with other Christmas comps, but you can't go wrong with four Charles Brown songs.
You can't get any hipper for the holidays than this red-hot collection, featuring a unique line-up of Christmas blues by Mark Hummel ("Thank You, Santa Claus") and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith ("One Day Till Christmas"), as well as Snooky Pryor, Alabama Red, Curley Bridges, and Chris Whitley, among others.
Call it the blues if you want, but this is a joyous collection of holiday music from talented folks like Duke Robillard ("Dukes Christmas"), Billy Boy Arnold ("Christmas Time"), Jimmy Witherspoon (with Robillard on "Christmas Blues"), Roscoe Gordon, Big Dave McLean, and Long John Baldry. Fourteen tunes in the blues, soul, roots-rock, and country vein, guaranteed to brighten your Christmas morning.