Christmas of Old

Like a visit from the ghost of Christmas past, local label Dust-to-Digital's sophomore release Where Will You Be On Christmas Day? is a haunting souvenir that invokes both wholesome and heartbroken imagery from many a Yuletide gone by. Yes, Jesus is a central character appearing throughout the compilation, and so is Santa Claus. But rather than quarreling over bragging rites for who's the real reason for the season, both co-exist in a celebration of cross-cultural tunes.

Where Will You Be On Christmas Day? is the follow-up to the label's Goodbye, Babylon box set of long-forgotten gospel recordings made during the first half of the 20th century. Compiled from the same source material by renowned collector/musicologist Dick Spotswood, this set isn't exactly lighthearted. The Rev. Edward W. Clayborn's "The Wrong Way to Celebrate Christmas" is a fire and brimstone throwback. Leroy Carr's "Christmas in Jail — Ain't That a Pain" is an understandably melancholy tune. But not all of it is a downer. Lord Executioner's "Christmas is a Joyful Day" is a bit of Calypso.

Each song is littered with warm, analogue fuzz, but the tie that binds it all together is an earnest, non-commercial sense of decency. There are no slinky bellowing R&B divas and none of Michael Bolton's cool crooning and bedroom eyes. Where Will You Be On Christmas Day? is a humble and historic collection that injects a dose of much-needed personality into holiday music.

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