Real Gone Music is ensuring that it’s going to be a merry Christmas, indeed, with a number of holiday-themed releases that practically beg to be enjoyed alongside a glass of egg nog and a warm fireplace.
Bobby Darin’s The 25th Day of December, the late singer’s only holiday LP, arrived on the Atco label in 1960. However, the album wasn’t the work of Bobby Darin, the splish-splashin’ rock-and-roller, or Bobby Darin, the finger-snapping, tuxedoed crooner. It’s not even the work of Bob Darin, the folk troubadour. Instead, it displays another side of the versatile Darin: a reverent, spiritual artist determined to avoid the traditional trappings and Tin Pan Alley Christmas songs that would likely have dominated his contemporaries’ holiday records in 1960.
On Real Gone’s first-ever CD release of the original stereo album mix, The 25th Day of December still retains the power to surprise and enthrall. It came in a busy year for the singer in which every project seemed different than the one that preceded it – an original studio album, a live set at the Copa, a duet project with Johnny Mercer (the latter recorded in 1960 and released the following year). Darin turned to Bobby Scott, who had accompanied him in live performances and in the studio, to craft the album’s arrangements and lead the choir dubbed The Bobby Scott Chorale. Though the album emphasized the sacred over the secular – there’s no “Silver Bells” or “Sleigh Ride” here – Scott and Darin clearly desired to take listeners not just to a staid, solemn congregation, but to a foot-stompin’, soul-savin’ revival.
Darin seemingly reached to the depths of his soul for the up-tempo gospel of “Child of God,” “Baby Born Today” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” growling and wailing his call-and-response vocals with Scott’s choir. “Poor Little Jesus” is as deeply bluesy as “Jehovah Hallelujah” is utterly rousing. The straightforward hymn “Holy Holy Holy” shows off Scott’s choral arrangements for male and female voices, and “Ave Maria” (the Bach-Gounod setting, not the Schubert) features some of Darin’s most sensitive, impassioned and subtle singing. It’s a far cry from the brash upstart persona Darin cultivated with songs like “Mack the Knife.” So is the stately take on “Silent Night.” Darin even sang in Latin on the album’s de facto finale, “Dona Nobis Pacem.” (A brief a cappella “Amen” follows the track.)
Real Gone’s reissue adds new liner notes from James Ritz. In addition, the label has expanded the original LP with one bonus track, the mono single of “Christmas Auld Lang Syne” with new lyrics by Frank Military and Manny Kurtz. When Darin starts to sing of mistletoe and tinsel glow, it’s both refreshing and disconcerting following the frequently-solemn album. The 25th Day of December remains a moving and singular creation by one of popular music’s most enduring vocalists, and one of the most unusual Christmas albums to be recorded by a mainstream superstar. As such, it’s worth a spin this Christmas season.
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