Christmas albums are interesting commodities. Many artists release at least one during the course of their career. Others participate in a large group effort. The general purpose of these releases is far from sanctimonious. Usually, it is to cash in on the holiday spending frenzy. Some have a genuine desire to create an inspiring testament to the spirit of the season. A Partridge Family Christmas Card seems to fit into both these categories. It is at once joyous and contrived. Crass yet uplifting. The songs chosen for the album are non-denominational and innocuous. It is as sacred as a Rankin-Bass holiday cartoon. This does not, however, detract from its enjoyable and infectious mood.
The only original Partridge Family tune on the album is its lead-off track, My Christmas Card To You. Surprisingly, it is one of the best Partridge Family songs ever recorded, full of rich orchestration with instruments not used on other Partridge recordings. French and English horns, recorders, bass clairinet and flutes create a decidedly holiday spirit. Written by Partridge popmeister, Tony Romeo, My Christmas Card To You also exhibits some wonderfully complex and harmonious background vocals from John Bahler and company. David Cassidy's performance is a delight, as he sings of the fields and farms and the road to town. To hear the magic of this song is alone worth the price of admission.
The Partridge interpretations of seasonal standards begins with White Christmas. This Irving Berlin standard is done very well, with acoustic guitar and background vocals stealing the performance. A fresh arrangement of Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town follows. Bahler's vocal arrangement invites us to listen as the voices sing, "He's comin', comin'!" A bluesy Blue Christmas gives David Cassidy a chance to turn on the juice (I'll have a bah-loooo Christmas....). Jingle Bells rocks out a bit thanks to Wes Farrell's arrangement. Shirley Jones makes a rare solo performance in The Christmas Song. This track sounds as if it was lifted from the soundtrack of Golden-Age Hollywood musical.
We begin Side Two with a very Partridge rendition of Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree. One of the better tracks on the album, it is hard not to get into the groove of this song. The rhythm section of Hal Blaine and Max Bennett really cook. Although the overall production of the record is not as polished as, say, Sound Magazine (which was released only four months prior), the trademark sounds of harpsichord, Cassidy and Bahler give each tune a familiarity conjuring feelings of hearth and home. Shirley and David are front and center on Winter Wonderland, and David turns in one of his most memorable, breathy vocal perfomances on Frosty The Snowman. We get a taste of the David-less Partridge Family vocal choir on Sleigh Ride, and the album wraps up with Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which was featured in the Christmas episode. Like Sleigh Ride, this tune features the Bahler vocal group.
Naturally, this isn't an album to listen to everyday, despite the title cut's theme of "Christmas time and all the whole year through". The performances are very good, and if you enjoy a light, fluffy Christmas album, then this is the perfect album for you. I would put it in a league with Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas, in the sense that it can be appreciated on two levels. One, it is a bonafide holiday album, but it is also a memento of a time when everybody wanted to spend Christmas with The Partridge Family.
A Partridge Family Christmas Card
Produced by Wes Farrell for Coral Rock Productions, Inc.
Rhythm tracks arranged by Wes Farrell
Vocal Background arranged by John Bahler
Drums: Hal Blaine
Piano: Mike Melvoin
Bass: Max Bennett
Guitar: Dennis Budimir and Louie Shelton
Background voices: John Bahler, Tom Bahler, Jackie Ward and Ron Hicklin
Partridge Family vocals by Shirley Jones and David Cassidy
Recorded at Western Recorders (Studio 2) Los Angeles
Engineered by Bob Kovach
Howard Pattow spreads joy to the world as the guitarist and founder of Sound Magazine, the Partridge Family tribute band.
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