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Review by Brad Green:
The muse came to a New York subway in 1934, and Santa Cause has been coming to town ever since. The song was penned in the course of a 15-minute train ride almost 80 years ago; but J. Fred Coots catchy tune and Haven Gillespie’s charming lyric have lost as much appeal in that time as their title character has lost inches round the waistline. 

Santa Clause Is Coming To Town soars to flying reindeer heights on the back of malleable simplicity. First performed on Eddie Cantor’s radio show, it has been unforgettably reinvented by the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and countless others. My favourite remains the swinging, joyously-phrased Ray Charles rendition, but there are two versions on this soundtrack that come close. Smokey Robinson And The Miracles’ Motown treatment and Steve Tyrell’s big band performance would have the man himself singing along as he shimmies his corpulent frame down the chimney. I must, however, snort humbug in the direction of whoever thought it was a good idea to truncate the former – it fades out before the 2-minute mark – thus leading to a listening experience akin to ripping open a box of Xmas choccies only to find that the elves have been helping themselves prior to dispatch. 

Fortunately there are more goodies here to fill the gap. As a Yuletide compilation this CD holds as many surprises as the contents of your average Chrissy cracker – whoever used the term “novelty” gift in this context must surely have had a keen sense of irony – but the songs are mostly as fabbo as they are predicable.

After opening with two harmless pop bonbons – strictly for ears belonging to those still young enough to perch comfortably on Kris Kringle’s knee – we are proffered plenty of broad appeal, seasonal melody. If the rock ‘n’ roll of Brian Setzer’s Jingle Bells and Chuck Berry’s Run Rudolph Run aren’t enough festive cheer, we even have Louis Armstrong’s irresistible Zat You Santa Clause to plant a smile on the most stubborn Scrooge’s mug. 

Putting a more modern zing into St. Nick’s big time of the year are sHeDAISY, whose harmonies are as capital as the way they write their name. These three singing sisters with the family name Osborn sound as exuberant and in tune as their differently spelled namesakes are dysfunctional. Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag is more of a blues rocker than the James Brown funkiness the title might suggest, but its got James’s level of juice in its delivery, and a rather winning combination of a lead vocal with the fem rock qualities of Suze DeMarchi and a chorus of Andrew Sisters-style harmonies. 

Rounding out the compilation is a brief passage from George S. Clinton’s score: a tinseled pastiche that’s as easily likeable as it is unremarkable. 

Of course there are any number of Christmas tune compilations being released at this time of year. Aural confections all, but this one has a bit more cream in the centre than most.

Published December 19, 2002

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TITLE: Santa Clause 2
ID: 91521 336112
Walt Disney
ARTISTS: Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector; Hilary Duff; Brian Setzer; Chuck Berry; Louis Armstrong; Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; The Shirelles; Unwritten Law and Sum 41; Brenda Lee; Steve Tyrall
SCORE: George S. Clinton

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