User avatarFour Word Reviews: Christmas with Mahalia

It’s been the hottest April since records began, or something, with temperatures up to 28°C here in the tropical south last week. The flowers are out in force, bees are buzzing around and the sky is a clear, vivid blue. With all that in mind, then, I am unable to explain why this might be a good time to review Christmas with Mahalia, a 1968 album featuring ten gospel versions of Christmas songs with rich orchestral and choral accompaniment. But evidently it is a good time, because here we are.

I’m going to say right now that traditional gospel music is not 100% my thing. I don’t own as many gospel albums as maybe I should. So when this album was thoughtfully given to me, I knew very little about Mahalia Jackson. Turns out she was a very famous and influential gospel singer and civil rights activist. Good for her, I say, but having listened to her Christmas album, I remain unconvinced that she recorded anything in her lifetime that deserves to be on the radio every hour for the whole of December, and in that respect I think Slade could probably teach her a thing or two.

The sleeve notes talk about how Mahalia has put her own mark on all these songs and brings her own very real faith to them. She actually brought some of her own lyrics to track 7, “What Child Is This”, and in other songs brought her own very real mispronunciation to the existing words. I particularly enjoyed the phrase “born is the King of Israllel”. Some of the songs are almost unrecognisable in their slowed-down gospelness, and bits of it feel more like a film score than anything else. The first song that runs at anything like a reasonable pace is track 9, by which I mean it gets your foot tapping slightly faster than a funeral dirge.

Track Title Word 1 Word 2 Word 3 Word 4
1 It Came Upon the Midnight Clear Expert warbling, indecipherable lyrics
2 O Holy Night Big on the “O”
3 The First Noel Like gospel but duller
4 No Room in the Inn Very slow, zoned out
5 Silver Bells About bells and cities
6 Happy Birthday to You, O Lord Drowning in choral slush
7 What Child Is This A slow Christmassy “Goldfinger”
8 White Christmas Bring back Bing Crosby
9 Do You Hear What I Hear? I hear this unfortunately
10 Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming Not a Christmas song

In summary, then, the whole album sounds a bit like the slow intro before a sad Motown song properly gets going: not bad, as such, but you do spend the whole time thinking that in a minute the pace might pick up a bit and it’ll sound more festive. My favourite thing about this album is that all the songs start with Mahalia ramping up to her first word with a sound like the roar the actors teach to Prince George in Blackadder the Third. “OOOOAAAARRRRGHHHHHH’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. My least favourite thing is that it doesn’t really sound Christmassy at all, but then maybe that’s what makes it the ideal Christmas album for a warm day in late April.

23 comments to Four Word Reviews: Christmas with Mahalia

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    My finger has been hovering over the ‘purchase’ button for this album for the past week. Based on your review, I’ve ordered twelve copies. It sounds acebags.

  • That’s the right decision. This is, without a doubt, the Bula Quo of Christmas albums.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    It sounds as though it is a perfect companion piece to Bula Quo. In fact quite why Status Quo and Mahalia have not teamed up prior to this is mystifying.

  • Absolutely. Even though Mahalia has died and half of Status Quo has died, there’s still one of them left who could get teaming up if only he’d put his mind to it.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    Right right, so what you’re saying is that I should start printing the posters? Kev is insisting that we put his crab on them, for some reason.

  • Kev loves his crab. It’s going to be depicted in the stained glass window that will be the centrepiece of his new east wing’s foyer.

  • Now that will be a marvel to behold. Will it be as magnificent as the cotton badger statue in his seventh bathroom?

  • The cotton badger statue spouts golden syrup from its mouth like a fountain. You’d have to go a long way to beat that.

  • The east wing is nearly finished, and the crab window is on order. Unfortunately the cotton badger got wet and went all mushy and limp, so I’m having it re-made out of the hard bits of weetabix that you struggle to get off the bowl after you’ve left it a bit too long before washing up.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    Weetabix bits cotton badger statue? I’m sure I have their first EP somewhere…

  • That stuff is the hardest material known to man. Sculptors use it to chisel marble when they make normal statues.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    I once fashioned a tent out of it. Someone spilled cottage cheese on it and submitted it for the Turner Prize, and got second place.

  • What tools did you use to fashion it? The badger craftsmen keep blunting their chisels trying to carve the intricate hair details.

  • The only material that can cut hardened Weetabix slops is a blade of even purer hardened Weetabix slops.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    “Slops for the slops”, as Alan Titchmarsh used to say (what?)

  • He did. We used to chant that in the playground.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    You also used to sing ‘Shout to the Top’, that awful song by the awful Style Council. You did, however, sing it in a post-modern ironic sense which is perfectly acceptable. I wish all children were like the young you, as in you.

  • Are you saying that Alan Titchmarsh was a member of the Style Council?

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    Yes, he was one of the ones at the back. You know, thingy and Titchface. Paul Smeller was at the front wearing a pair of shades, wishing he was back in The Jam and cool again.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    Monty Don played drums.

    That classic line-up: Paul Smeller, Alan Titchface and Monty Don.

  • Monty Don, of course, went on to be one of the founding members of Beats International. He’s the one going “tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty” on the start of Dub Be Good To Me.

  • Ian "Mac Mac Mac Mac" McIver

    It sounds like him to; he was a great rapper back in the day. Quite why he retired to walk around large gardens on the telly is anyone’s guess.

    We should start a campaign to get him back on the stage with a mic in his hand.

  • I tell you what: I’d sign that petition. I’d sign it in a heartbeat.

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