Review Summary: ...yuletide by the fireside and joyful memories there.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas.
For one, there’s no snow. Even for people who’ve never experienced temperatures below freezing, it’s not atypical to associate the holiday season with wintery weather. It’s not uncommon to see people decorating their window sills with cottony fake snow and cut-up-paper snowflakes in attempts to forcibly mimic the icy atmosphere Christmas is generally identified with. Hell, people are inflating life-sized, fake snowmen on their front lawns and affixing wicker reindeer to their sidewalks by second nature nowadays - all because Christmas and winter (at least in Western culture) walk hand in hand.
This year, however, the purportedly commercialized Christmas atmosphere is wholly absent from my life. The pithy, suburban houses that populate my neighborhood are hardly decorated, my family is allotted haphazardly all over the continent and - most importantly - there is no snow on the ground. I’ve greedily swilled every last drop of eggnog, I watched The Christmas Carol and I even listened to ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ on repeat. No use. Humbug. Yet before I wrote the concept of “Christmas spirit” off as a myth (much like I wrote off the possibility of St. Nicholas ten years earlier as a child), I felt strangely compelled to warrant Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas
a proper listen - and just like that, as the first notes of 'O Tennenbaum' rung out loud and clear, Christmas spirit manifested inside me, stirring up a wealth of memories and senses that can only be redirected to Christmas day.
Well, not really. But it came pretty damn close.
See, A Charlie Brown Christmas
has an indescribably timeless feel. The by now 40+ year old soundtrack has done nothing but escalate in character since it first appeared alongside the clumsily animated Christmas special on TV half a century ago. It is the closest tangible form of Christmas I personally know of. Its soothing brushes and skillful piano take me back to years preceding my discovery of the more materialistic aspect of Christmas - quite simply, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas
takes me back to a time in which Christmas simply was a joyous time for everybody, regardless of hardships, struggles or anxiety. And now, as I gradually grow older and more cynical, Guaraldi’s Christmas masterpiece remains an ineffable staple of holiday cheer that not even a lack of eggnog, family or, well, snow
Interestingly enough, the weird thing about A Charlie Brown Christmas
is that it sounds (thank God) nothing like Charlie Brown. Even if you’ve lodged yourself beneath a rock for the majority of your life and have never seen the culturally admired television special, you can still listen to this album and love it beyond reason. There are jazzy, brilliant new interpretations (new at the time, that is) of classic Christmas carols (O Christmas Tree, What Child is This, The Little Drummer Boy etc.) and there are also a few original songs in the mix (Skating, Linus and Lucy, Christmas Time Is Here etc.) that, despite being only first introduced at the date of release, were and continue to be today immediate Christmas classics. Also, unlike most 20th century Christmas music that isn’t Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, Vince Guaraldi and company manage to create a Christmas-y atmosphere that isn’t irritating. You won’t find overly peppy, sugary renditions of obnoxious modern Christmas songs (mange d’la mardé
, Jingle Bell Rock!) on here - everything on A Charlie Brown Christmas
is tranquil, jazzy and well executed.
While to solely articulate the holiday record on its instrumental performances is a bit redundant due to the album’s familiarity, it is more than necessary to mention how well-crafted the music really is. Guaraldi himself is a brilliant writer and pianist and his seemingly anonymous two bandmates both contribute equally stunning performances to the potpourri of talent. The compositions and arrangements range from the immediately recognizable and upbeat 'Linus and Lucy' to the almost completely reimagined ‘My Little Drum’ - a jazzy interpretation of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ that sees the song’s main melody take the backseat to a serene but effective piano line. Perhaps the only
thing that might disconcert a listener on A Charlie Brown Christmas
is the occasional presence of vocals - ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ feature some rather distinctly Charlie Brown-y children’s choir-led vocals that, while incredibly essential to the album experience, may throw off the listening experience slightly for those not familiar with the album.
So, yeah, this year? For me, it’s going to be a green Christmas. Yes, it’s going to be bereft of everything Christmas was so perfectly made out to be - it’s going to be dry, unfestive and perhaps a little more cynical than it needs to be. The season won’t automatically transmute itself into something beautiful and celebratory because of the Vince Guaraldi Trio. A Charlie Brown Christmas
won’t shake snow out of the clouds and sugar plum dreams won’t adorn your slumber just because Guaraldi put to record the best version of ‘Greensleeves’ ever - but for me, A Charlie Brown Christmas
will at least give me the nostalgia I crave. Its relatively flawless execution and general relaxed spirit characterizes Christmas like no other record I’ve yet to hear and its seat amongst other classic Christmas albums is completely deserved. By the flawless piano of Vince Guaraldi, my Christmas will be spent - at least something
will be perfect this year.
”Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share.”