various artists,
Sing Christmas and
the Turn of the Year

(Rounder, 2000)

Place Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year in your stereo, press "play" and instantly it's 1957. Christmas Day, specifically, and all of Britain is celebrating. Alan Lomax was there and he saved it for us all to hear. And Rounder Records, 43 years later, has released it for everyone's seasonal enjoyment.

Working with live hookups throughout the British Isles, Lomax presented an original holiday broadcast on the BBC. Leapfrogging around the country, Lomax and his associates gave listeners a taste of Britain's multicultural celebrations, ranging from traditional pub sings to choral hymns and, yes, even the skiffle bands which were popular in the day.

We don't get a lot of full songs here; Lomax hops and skips from place to place, feeding us a snippet here and a snippet there, providing cultural commentary like a gung-ho sports announcer as he goes. And it's a rollicking ride.

Because the BBC saved no copies of the production, Sing Christmas and the Turn of the Year may well have disappeared from our folk memory forever. Fortunately, two copies -- one preserved on 33 1/3 vinyl, the other on 78 -- were found in the Lomax archives in 1996. The CD was made using the best tracks from both, but there is still a bit of sound distortion -- it's rarely intrusive, however. The CD comes with comprehensive liner notes detailing the first broadcast and the subsequent folk revival which Lomax would be remembered for spearheading. There are also photos, a complete transcription of Lomax's dialogue and the lyrics of all the songs.

If you have a yen for Christmas Past, take this one home and send yourself back to 1957.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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