Various Artists; B.B. King 

Blue Xmas (Evidence); A Christmas Celebration of Hope (MCA)

The sense of emptiness caused by lost love is heightened during the holiday season, and has served as subject matter for countless Christmas blues, including Lowell Fulson's "Lonesome Christmas," Freddie King's "Christmas Tears," and Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas." There's hardly a sad song among the sixteen tracks on Blue Xmas, however. Indeed, there's not a twelve-bar blues in the lot, just a bunch of holiday pop favorites -- from "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland" to "Blue Christmas" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" -- rendered instrumentally by a bevy of such blues heavies as guitarists Tommy Castro, Roy Gaines, Alvin Youngbood Hart, Roy Rogers, Otis Rush, Son Seals, Joe Louis Walker, and Rusty Zinn, and harmonica blowers Charlie Musselwhite and Kim Wilson. The cast keeps changing, but what could have degenerated into a jam session remains focused, thanks to finely crafted arrangements by producer Carla Olson and a rhythm section made up of guitarist Denny Freeman, organist Deacon Jones, bassist Phil Upchurch, and drummer Alvino Bennett. Blues Boy King also applies his gifted hands to a pop standard, swinging gently through an instrumental treatment of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," but the bulk of the material on his self-produced A Christmas Celebration of Hope comes from the blues canon. Backed up by his own fine band, the singing guitar stinger begins the thoughtfully programmed set in typical Christmas blues despair with "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Lonesome Christmas" before moving on to such holiday party numbers as Clarence Carter's "Back Door Santa" and a reprise of his own "Christmas Celebration," rounding out the season with "Bringing in a Brand New Year" and a shuffling "Auld Lang Syne."


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