By Kristin Battestella
The Glenn Miller Orchestra carries on the brassy mood of its namesake (“He’s not dead, he’s missing!”) and turns the swinging merriment into holiday spirit with not one, but two nineties volumes of In the Christmas Mood. Though uneven at times thanks to modern missteps and mid century interpretations, these two albums remain jolly fun for a December dance party.
In the Christmas Mood begins the festive session with a spirited Sleigh Ride, still in the Pops feel yet offering a new breezy spin amid the recognizable rhythms. This is not a set of all secular grooves, however, and soothing time is taken for the spiritual with the Yuletide Medley of O Holy Night/Joy to the World/Little Town of Bethlehem and Deck the Halls. Delightful horns linger deep on the reverence with mellow, lullaby notes, swaying nicely for an evening dinner before going peppy on the joy and concluding with the ritzy trimmings. With such positive orchestral opportunity, it’s surprising to hear vocalists enter In the Christmas Mood for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We know the tune well enough to sing along without a chorus, and these merely serviceable sound-a-likes dampen the Christmas charm with a generic, amateur, no name feeling – ironic, of course, considering the Glenn Miller branding. The instrumental designs on In the Christmas Mood are far more appealing, but the band is unfortunately toned down in favor of these weaker singers.
These interrupting singers hamper the sweet, snowy sounds on Silver Bells as well before the jiving Jingle Bells puts In the Christmas Mood back on track. Granted, some listeners may not like these faux Miller arrangements jamming off the melody – at times they are unrecognizable as themselves and have too many Pennsylvania 6500 familiarities. If you’re having a full tilt holiday party, however, this seasonal merriment with classic flavoring is okay. Frosty the Snowman continues the upbeat, dancing good time but before the rock outs stray too much, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas slows In the Christmas Mood down with solo, sentimental bittersweet – and it’s made all the more bittersweet thanks to those grating vocals!
I wish In the Christmas Mood had separated the instrumental and vocal tracks or had done the carols in full without singers, for another Yuletide Medley of O Christmas Tree/It Came Upon a Midnight Clear/We Three Kings and What Child is This is perfectly upbeat as needed or somber, sweet, and reverent in its brassy blend of carols and tradition. The twists here go peppy when we might expect melancholy and simmering when we normally hear festive. These melodies feel like a concert, a special holiday evening on the town sprinkling in a few notes of everything – unlike the forgettable gal ruining I'll Be Home for Christmas. The amateur vocals erroneously turn this lonely tale into a speedy toe tapper, and again, the big instruments away from the singers carry the swanky sway much better. A beautifully simple and slow Silent Night would bid the night adieu in tender fashion, but unfortunately, the unnecessary In the Christmas Mood is a much too on the nose finale. Let’s sing about us singing about the holidays, yeah! No. This faux forties choir deters the titular tone, and the inability to skip over the vocals victimizes half the fine music here, giving In the Christmas Mood an inaccurate ho hum feeling.
Fortunately, In the Christmas Mood II starts on the right track with a fine We Wish You A Merry Christmas. There are slow salutations and suave but no less danceable rhythms continuing that sophisticated merrymaking mood. Likewise, White Christmas remains slow, brooding, and cheek-to-cheek with its sentimental chic. The big brass notes really make the arrangement pop here – before those flat singers again compromise another classic. The Yuletide Medley of Away in the Manger/Ave Maria and The First Noel does far better with the lullaby reverence, creating striking, almost weeping instrumental notes for each classy carol. Often annoying due to its repetition, The Twelve Days of Christmas delivers the familiar refrains before jazzing up the traditional and giving each measure of the countdown a distinctive good time. Winter Wonderland would stroll along with more breezy beats but for those pedestrian vocals yet again sacrificing the pleasant music.
The fireside grooves continue with The Christmas Song, keeping In the Christmas Mood II in smooth sentimental fashion along with the surprisingly perky but no less respectful or sing alongable Yuletide Medley of Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard on High/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and O Come All Ye Faithful. Of course, (There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays would continue the perfect peppy and toe tapping rhythms if it weren’t for the inferior singers. This eighties meets forties off key style just doesn’t work. Not only is it not very good in itself, but we already have the real perennial mid century classics remaining timeless and fresh in our collective Christmas mind.
Thankfully, Good King Wenceslas does much better for In the Christmas Mood II by adding new swinging notes to this Stephen ode. Santa Claus is Coming to Town remains spry and playful but its upbeat is pleasantly adult instead of juvenile. It does stray too close to In the Mood at times in its jamming interlude and that’s okay, as is the upscale, swanky winking suggestion of Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Serve up the cocktails and toast In the Christmas Mood II before the fitting Auld Lang Syne exit. In the Christmas Mood II smartly reduces the appearance of its stock singers for most of its tracks, and these departing big brass tempos vary the rhythms, making room for time to kiss under the mistletoe or jive the December away.
There are no true standout tracks on this In the Christmas Mood double session, and the zing of the original bandleader is obviously absent. When up against classic Christmas albums and vintage holiday renditions from the period itself, the try hard, revival swing design here sadly dates itself as inferior – especially those unspectacular singers! The instrumental sounds, however, successfully pull off the mid century nostalgia well. At 45 minutes each, there’s enough pleasantly swinging material here to accompany a festive dance party of any age and scale. The sophistication of either In the Christmas Mood is secular enough to jazz up the office yet recognizably spiritual and spirited notes are in the mix. While some traditional audiences may not like such a big band intrusion or additional rhythms upon the carols, overall, this is a sentimental, toe tapping good time for your playlist.