The Sound's of Christmas
From Around the World

Songs Of Christmas - From The Alan Lomax Collection
(Rounder Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

Although there are thousands of different cultures throughout the world, there is one day the majority of them come together to celebrate one thing; the birth of Christ on December 25th.
Ever since folklorist, musicologist and historian Alan Lomax began his career in 1933 making field recordings of folk musicians for the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress, he has made a point to find and record the music that epitomized the spirit of Christmas.
Throughout his world travels Lomax has preserved Christmas songs that have been handed down through the centuries from one generation to the next. On Songs Of Christmas - From The Alan Lomax Collection Rounder Records presents us with a good number of these ancient traditions (some of which would have no doubt slipped into oblivion without Lomax's efforts to preserve them) that he and his colleagues recorded between 1950 and 1964.
Traveling from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to Italy, Spain, the Caribbean and the Southern U.S. this 31-song collection moves as swiftly through different cultures and countries as ol' Kris Kringle on Christmas Eve.
The set starts out with a reading from Dorset, England. This reading was part of a pagan English ritual known as 'mumming', where masked players stand in semi-circle and step forward in turns to speak their parts. Also featured from the British Isles is Ewan MacColl's brief Christmas rhyme, which hearkens back to a time when 'organized begging' was frowned upon by Church officials feeling that it blighted the Christmas season. Although there are few Scottish Gaelic Christmas songs, a Scottish Crofter group performs "Taladh An Leinibh Losa", a gentle Christmas lullaby which speaks of the Holy Family's search for lodging and the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem. In the West Indies a Christmas tradition known as 'sporting' (where groups of men walk from house to house to entertain their guests and ask for money) is showcased on "The Motion Tune" with a fife, tambourine and other tribal instruments indigenous to that area.
One of the most beloved Italian Christmas carols, "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle" which was written in 1853 by a Neapolitan bishop, was performed in 1955 in Caggiano, Italy by a group of shepherd bagpipers who would perform door to door throughout the holiday, while an unidentified priest from Abruzzi, Italy is captured here chanting in Latin on "Venite Adoremus". Spending the entire 1952 Christmas season in Spain Lomax's recordings from that year feature the angelic, high-pitched voice of Manuela Morena on "Tan Tan", "Las Doce Por La Virgin", a song of the Twelve Verses for the Virgin accompanied by a friction drum, and the "Exit Tune from Midnight Mass" in Ibiza, Spain which is performed on flute and tabor drum.
The sounds of the blues and country music from the Southern States is what Lomax started out documenting early in his career , and this area is not left out on this collection. With a rich, gospel-infused voice Vera Ward Hall, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, gives us her wonderful versions of "No Room At The Inn" and "Last Month Of The Year" as well as a reading about the Holy Family's search for a place to stay, all which conjures up the vision of a rural South gospel church service. On "Sherburne", the Sacred Harp Singers from Fyffe, Alabama perform a unique style of harmonizing, known as "sharp note" notation, that was taught to hundreds of thousands of Southerners in the early 19th century.
While Alan Lomax's collection of world Christmas songs won't replace Bing's "White Christmas" or Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" as the quintessential holiday recording, this fascinating look at the history of Christmas music around the world certaily belongs in anyone's collection of holiday treasures.

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