Christmas With the Rat Pack

Dec 11, 2002 at 12:00 am

It’s a ring-a-ding-ding Christmas with Ol’ Blue Eyes, Dino and Sammy. And much of this material is super-rare; included are a number of tunes originally found on promotional-only releases and out-of-print holiday LPs, not to mention a pair of cuts featuring duets by Ol’ Blue Eyes and Dino from two of Dean’s annual (1967 and 1970) Christmas TV specials. Cynics may scoff at the inherent kitsch factor here, but it’s impossible not to be won over by the sleek musical arrangements and silky-smooth vocals adorning such emotionally rich holiday classics as “The First Noel” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (Sinatra), “Silver Bells” and “White Christmas” (Martin) and “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting”) and “Jingle Bells” (Davis).

Davis, in fact, while generally getting the Scrooge treatment on the collection (always the second-class citizen of the Rat Packers — the nim-nam Negro to Frank’s bim-bam baby, one supposes — he has a miserly three out of 21 cuts) really delivers the goods on the latter, jiving and jazzing his way through the number, at one point even exhorting an imaginary audience to join in: “Everybody — Jingle Bells!” There’s also something fascinating, in a non-pc/pre-date rape era kind of way, about hearing Martin’s vocal come-ons in “Baby it’s Cold Outside.” None-too-subtly he argues against his gal heading home in the snow (“it’s up to your knees out there … listen to the fireplace roar!”) and, significantly, she opts to linger (“maybe just a cigarette more … say, what’s in this drink?”). Ho-ho-ho; score one for Dino, the original booze-guzzling red-nosed reindeer!

By comparison, Sinatra is generally restrained, focusing more on ballad-oriented tracks, but there’s a least one number (“I Believe”) that finds him at his big band-fronting, finger-snapping, extemporaneous best.

So pour a stiff shot (or seven) of eggnog and cuddle up by the fire, ’cos baby, these chestnuts are definitely well-roasted.

E-mail Fred Mills at [email protected].