Christmas can often be a somewhat nostalgic time as families gather to both celebrate the nearness of a new year as well as reflect about one almost done. (Don’t give your Christmas chronicler crap about using the word “done” instead of “finished” because “finished’ doesn’t rhyme with “one”, mmmkay?) These days, however, with so many overly-PC peeps plaguing this place it’s often easy to forget how things used to be way back when.
Enter the good folks at Omnivore Recordings and their new release holiday release The Edie Adams Christmas Album featuring Ernie Kovacs (1952). For those not up on their pop culture, Edie Adams was an American singer, comedienne, Broadway, television and film actress and an Emmy and Tony Award winner. Famous for her impersonations of female stars like Marilyn Monroe, Adams was also the wife of television actor, comedian and talk show host Ernie Kovacs .
This disc collects 15 cuts—both secular and spiritual– culled from the 1952 episodes of the Kovacs Unlimited TV show. Adams’ son, Josh Mills, wrote the CD’s liner notes including his personal memories of his mother during the holidays. He also states that “Omnivore . . . did an amazing job compiling” the songs herein included.
The album’s opener, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”, makes it obvious that the material was drawn from a television show as a portion of a skit precedes the actual song. The track also betrays the album’s obvious archival origins in that there is static and the sound quality throughout the release is noticeably imperfect. While some critics might claim this is an issue, in truth, it also offers evidence of authenticity.
As on most of the following material, the piano provides a backdrop for Adams’ honest, unadorned offerings of all the songs here. The second selection is “It’s Christmas Time”. Again, Adams is solo as she sings another solid, basic version of the classic.
Also included here is “a request”—“Household / Holiday Blues”. This provides the audience with a tune from a different genre and attitude in duet form. Kovacs serves as an admittedly anticipated comic counterpoint to Adams elegant, live vocals.
“The Christmas Song” is a standard arranged in an original fashion that allows Adams to own it. It’s a fan favorite and perhaps perfect predecessor to “Silver Bells” on which Kovacs one more returns to duet with Adams in a comparatively quiet, sincere performance that allows an audience to see beyond the belly-laughs.
The sixth selection is “Blue Christmas”. Many might only associate this Christmas classic with male vocalists such as Elvis Presley. Adams, however, has honed her presentation of this pop-like piece and makes it hers.
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” has what some would say is an almost odd intro and yet it actually is rather charming once the audience allows it to be. Adams has fun with the melody and even inserts a jazzy vocal bridge or song segue if you will launching into “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the middle of the song. It’s followed by one you’d not hear on a major network today “I Wonder As I Wander”. This would no doubt be deemed “too religious” by the powers that be which simply makes it all the more noteworthy. Indeed, it’s nice to recall the day when a lovely voice and a simple song weren’t quickly cast aside in order to be PC.
“It’s a Marshmallow World” provides another rare moment. It adds variety to the compilation and wouldn’t even offend those who insist on substituting “Seasons greetings” for “Merry Christmas”. Additionally, it includes a very real moment when Adams momentarily loses focus, giggles in mid-song and readily recovers to finish the song. It’s not Memorex, baby, it’s live! (If you missed the joke feel free to Google!)
“White Christmas” is both a holiday classic and a song that has come under fire as of late by people with nothing better to do and misplaced ambitions. The effective albeit old-fashioned arrangement here works especially well considering more recent attempts to band and/or edit the song and the motion picture in which it is named.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is yet another classic. It’s another authentic offering and demonstrates Adams’ ability to sing a song minus mechanical aid so often employed today. “Christmas in Killarney” comes next. It’s a Celtic cut with an interesting arrangement not often heard elsewhere. (Is Kovacs doing a Christmas jig in the background?)
Yet another traditional tune, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, follows. Adams even includes the lyrical introduction. The next number is “Winter Wonderland”. Adams again appears to be having fun and even closes the song with a bit of a jazzy ending.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” serves as a timely, tuneful, apt album end-note. As Christmas comes to a close so comes the New Year. Overall, an honest, old-fashioned offering of holiday music never before offered anywhere. It happily harkens back to a day when no one was afraid to offer a stranger a seasonal smile and no one was wary of acknowledging “It’s Christmas Time”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.
(NOTE: Fans of Edie Adams and Ernie Kovacs will be interested to know that the Shout! Factory is offering what some say is “the perfect visual complement to The Edie Adams Christmas Album”—namely The Ernie Kovacs Collection Volume 2 on DVD. It includes a collection of Kovacs’ crazy, comic gifts drawn from various television archives such as NBC’s The Ernie Kovacs Show. Broadcast from the 1950s.)