Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bessie Smith "At The Christmas Ball"

There is no genre of music so treacly, so silly, and so lame as Christmas music.  Or so I thought, until I started to delve into more off beat entries in the genre.  Turns out there's a wealth of great jazz, blues, and country Christmas songs that explore the darker side of the holidays.

One of my favorites is "At The Christmas Ball" by Bessie Smith.  Only she could sing a song about Christmas and make it a boozy, bluesy lament.  As always with a lot of her songs, the piano echoes in a way that it sounds like it's bubbling right out of the earth.  There is an ethereal darkness in her records, partially due to the way the primitive recording equipment at the time captured sound, but also because of her incomparable style of singing.

In Bessie's world Christmas isn't for family or religion, but for having a good time.  (I would expect nothing less from the woman who gave us "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer.")  This doesn't sound much like party music, though.  Bessie sings about getting drunk and finding dance partners, but the song sounds more like the hangover the day after.  Next time you're tired of hearing the godawful likes of the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick" or Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," just put on this Bessie Smith tune to clear it all away.

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