Christmas Album is a late-1968 album by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. It was the group’s eleventh release. The LP edition of the album was issued twice. The original edition had the cover photography filling the front and back sides of the album jacket. For the reissue, the photos were reduced to half size and placed in the center of a white background. Although the Brass’ albums were out of print for a good many years, the Christmas Album was released on CD in the 1980s (with the CD release sporting the altered cover artwork), with annual reappearances in record stores at Christmastime. The album was re-released again on CD by the Shout!Factory label in 2006 as were many of the other Tijuana Brass albums. The Shout!Factory release restored the original artwork to the front cover and featured the original back cover on the included CD booklet. Another CD re-release occurred on October 23, 2015 (Herb Alpert Presents label, remastered), this time restoring the original artwork to the front and back.
The album contains a mixture of popular Christmas-season music, mostly American secular standards. Exceptions include the Bach piece “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and a traditional Hispanic number, “Las Mañanitas.” The latter song’s arrangement, provided by marimbist Julius Wechter, is near identical to one used by Wechter’s Baja Marimba Band several years earlier, on their 1965 album For Animals Only. The songs’s title literally means “The Little Mornings;” the song is traditionally sung on the morning of one’s birthday celebration, or the day of a religious figure such as a saint (or, in this case, Jesus).
The cover features the image of Alpert, who is Jewish, dressed as Santa Claus while playing his trumpet. (by wikipedia)
I trace my eclectic Christmas music tastes to my childhood. My parents had some Christmas albums they’d pull out every year. As a result, these albums, by artists I haven’t heard of anywhere else, are so ingrained in me that the first few notes immediately make me think of Christmas past. This is one of those albums.
Originally released in 1968, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s holiday offering was a hit, reaching the #1 spot three Christmases in a row. It’s been out of print for many years except for a brief issue on CD until this year, when it was released as part of the Herb Alpert Signature Series. It’s been fully restored and includes a booklet talking about the release.
So what about the music? This is a mostly instrumental recording featuring Herb on the trumpet and the drums, guitars, and maracas of the band as well. This makes for unique arrangements of the classic songs. I guarantee you have nothing like this in your collection.
I say mostly instrumental because a choir is involved. Mostly, they hum the melody for a few measures and then let the band take over, sometimes coming in later to highlight the melody again. In addition, Herb sings on two songs. His version of “The Christmas Song” isn’t going to top anyone lists of favorite versions, but is good. I’ve only heard “The Bell that Couldn’t Jingle” here, but this time Herb’s vocals are better suited to the song. It’s a fun little number about Santa and Jack Frost helping a Bell find his jingle again.
And fun best describes the arrangements on this disc. The choir opens with a few a cappella measures of “Winter Wonderland,” then the band takes over with a samba arrangement that will be sure to have you dancing. The samba rhythm applies to “Jingle Bells” as well. “My Favorite Things” is probably the most original song here (and also a huge hit at the time of original release). It features several breaks and changes in tempo. You have to listen closely sometimes to follow the melody of all of these songs, but the music is so much fun to listen to, you’ll be tapping your toes or dancing along before you know it.
The samba rhythm is still going strong for “Sleigh Ride,” but they slow things down and switch to more jazz inspired arrangements for the final three songs. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is especially unique because the choir hums the melody throughout to the accompaniment of the band.
This album is not for everyone, but if you like something different to break up the monotony that can set in come December 20th, this is a CD to check out. I am so glad it is back in print so I can once again enjoy it for many Christmases to come. (by Mark Baker)
Herb Alpert (trumpet, vocals)
Nick Ceroli (drums, percussion)
Bob Edmondson (trombone)
Tonni Kalash (trumpet)
Lou Pagani (keyboards)
John Pisano (guitars/mandolin)
Pat Senatore (bass)
Julius Wechter (percussion)
01. Winter Wonderland (Smith/Bernard) 3.07
02. Jingle Bells (Pierpont) 3.13
03. My Favorite Things (Rodgers/Hammerstein) 3.08
04. The Christmas Song (Tormé/Wells) 3.43
05. Las Mañanitas (Traditional) 3.01
06. Sleigh Ride (Anderson) 4.04
07. The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle (Bacharach/Kusik) 2.59
08. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (Cahn/Styne) 3.49
09. Jingle Bell Rock (Beale/Boothe) 1.54
10. Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring (Bach) 3.26