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Tony BennettA singer of remarkable grace, Tony Bennett (read more) waxed this gem for Columbia in 1968 - well after his pop chart salad days but well before his hipster-fueled comeback late in the century. During that period (1994, to be exact), Snowfall: The Christmas Album was reissued with a contemporary cover and superfluous bonus track, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (recorded live on The Jon Stewart Show). Neither of those factors detract from the tasteful beauty of the original album. While not an artistic home run, Snowfall is a solid double or triple, filled with well-chosen standards and a handful of surprises including the rarely recorded "Christmasland" and the jazzy title tune. Ten years later, Snowfall was repackaged yet again, to little discernable effect - and certainly with little cause for fans to purchase the album once more. The 2007 edition, though, adds a lot of value - a five-song DVD excerpted from his 1992 Family Christmas special (and another redesigned cover).

More recently, Bennett recorded a Christmas album with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Christmas With Tony Bennett (2002), released on a limited basis through Hallmark Gold Crown card shops. Recorded live in London's Abbey Road studios, it's a warm, traditional affair - pleasant but inessential. Most disappointingly, Bennett adds vocals to merely half the tracks; the remainder is strictly orchestral fluff. You see, Tony Bennett could sing the phone book and make it sound great. Well, here he does, adding his distinctive flair to six resolutely predictable carols - and he transforms the otherwise unexciting Christmas With Tony Bennett into something nearly memorable. On an undisputed classic like Mel Torme's "Christmas Song," Tony and the London Symphony sound like old friends - comfortable, amiable, and simpatico. Still, the album stacks up poorly against Snowfall, making the latter disc a far more compulsory purchase.

Tony BennettMuch better, however, are a couple of Christmas tracks Bennett leaked out on recent albums. First, there's the urban celebration of "It's Christmas In Herald Square," a hidden track from Playground, Bennett's children's album from 1998. Second, we have the wonderful "A Christmas Love Song," a bonus track originally found only on the Barnes & Noble limited edition of The Art Of Romance (2004). Written by stalwart tunesmiths Johnny Mandel and Alan & Marilyn Bergman, "A Christmas Love Song" is a modern (though underappreciated) classic. Bennett's interpretation - produced by Mandel and featuring harmonica virtuoso Toots Theilman - is impeccable. Confusingly, the same song showed up on the imported version of The Art Of Romance under a different title - "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Four years later, the same recording (again as "All I Want") appeared on Bennett's collaboration with the Count Basie Big Band, A Swingin' Christmas.

Also see Bennett's 2014 single with Lady Gaga, "Winter Wonderland," an addendum to their album Cheek To Cheek. Turns out, she can sing - and the track swings like a (little) monster.

Tony Bennett also participated in Our Favorite Things (2001), an album taken from one of those annual, star-studded PBS Christmas concerts in Vienna, Austria. Add to Mr. Benedetto child soprano Charlotte Church, third tenor Placido Domingo, and rhythm & blues chanteuse Vanessa Williams, and the primary function of Our Favorite Things starts to seem like making Christmas With Tony Bennett sound like Snowfall in comparison. In the end, I recommend it only for soccer moms and stuffed shirts. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • A Christmas Love Song (aka All I Want For Christmas Is You) (2004)
  • The Christmas Song (2002)
  • Christmasland (1968)
  • Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1968)
  • It's Christmas In Herald Square (1998)
  • Medley: I Love The Winter Weather/I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm (1968)
  • My Favorite Things (1968)
  • Snowfall (1968)
  • Winter Wonderland (with Lady Gaga, 2014)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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